Incredibly present and feline, this statue of the goddess Bastet goes back through the centuries to launch a new challenge.
Egypt, Saite period, probably 26th Dynasty, 664-525 BCE. Statue of a seated cat representing the goddess Bastet, bronze and electrum, h. 27.8 cm/10.9 in.
With her haughty bearing, alert gaze, slender muscled form and graceful paws, this cat has all the makings of a queen: in fact, a goddess. For she is the earthly image of Bastet, the protective divinity of the home, also associated with prosperity and fertility. If she is shown in the form of a cat, or a woman with the head of a cat or lioness (a face representing the fierce Sekhmet, whereas Bastet embodied a different, peaceful side), her worship, though very ancient, grew particularly from the 10th century BCE onwards. This was the period when the Libyan kings of the 22nd dynasty moved to the city of Bubastis, in the east of the Nile delta, where they established their capital. Herodotus tells us that splendid and joyous feasts were periodically held in her temple, one of the Empire’s most elegant. During excavations in 1887, when archaeologists first took an interest in the site, mummified cats and statues in wood and bronze, used as offerings to the divinity, were unearthed. Thanks to the Greek historian who visited it in 450 BCE, we also know that the city received some 700,000 pilgrims each year, which gives an idea of how much Bastet was venerated. The first representations of cats as such date back to the Middle Kingdom. Little by little, the small feline became a pet and gained a place in funerary furnishings, painted on frescoes and carved on the bas-reliefs of tombs. Bastet being a protective deity of the pharaoh, cats were some of the few animals to be awarded the privilege of mummification. It is said that their owners observed a period of mourning after they died, going so far as to shave their eyebrows!
This statue with a frontal scarab, evoking the idea of daily rebirth, comes from the descendants of the painter Jean Bouvier (1924-2022) and his wife Thérèse, who bought it in Paris in the 1960s (it comes with a certificate from Charles Ratton dated June 25, 1969). It has one outstanding asset: its size. Though its model is familiar—a seated cat with a long, coiled tail, adorned with collars highlighting its protective role—, only a few (now in the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre) also measure about 27 cm/10.6 in. and possess this beautiful sculptural quality that enhances its rarity. Its eyes, with their remarkably preserved inlay of electrum (an alloy of gold and silver), reflect the image of past centuries in a mesmerizing green gaze poised to subjugate a new owner.