Ancient Egypt, Late Dynastic Period, ca. 712 to 332 BCE. A brilliantly detailed cast bronze figure of the goddess Bastet (or Bast). She stands, with the body of a human woman and a cat's head, wearing a richly decorated garment. Her right arm is raised at the elbow, and based on similar sculptures, probably once held an ankh (representing the breath of life). Her left hand rests against her stomach, behind a large cat-headed figure wearing the round, sun disc crown that sits at her waist, projecting outward as if on a belt. Bastet was a goddess of fertility and motherhood. Thousands of mummified cats and kittens were given as offerings to her at temples in her honor. The figure may have once had inlaid eyes. Size: 1.6" W x 4.8" H (4.1 cm x 12.2 cm); 6.95" H (17.7 cm) on included custom stand.
Beyond the goddess, cats were honored and protected in Egyptian society, in part because to harm them was said to upset her. Famously, Herodotus wrote that Egyptian men would protect cats from fire, and that when a cat died, a household would go into mourning as if a human member of the family had died, shaving their eyebrows to signify their loss. It was immediately before this Late Dynastic Period that worship of Bastet became immensely popular, and her chief center of worship, Bubastis, became a great city. Herodotus, visiting the city in 450 BCE, described a great festival dedicated to her. A bronze votive figure like this one was probably sold at a temple to a worshipper and either given as an offering or kept in a personal shrine/altar. The size and quality of this one suggests that it was a rich offering.
Provenance: private Southern California, USA collection, acquired in the 1970s to mid-1980s
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Right hand is missing at wrist. The piece has been repaired where the ankles meet the skirt. One ear is missing its tip. Surface wear commensurate with age, but very nice preservation of detail overall. Pale, mottled green patina.