Bronze cats of this type were votive offerings enclosing the mummy of a cat. The animal was generally killed when young by strangulation or by fracturing the spinal column. Many bronze cats were found in the necropolises, especially at Bubastis, the city of the cat goddess Bastet, but also in other towns in Middle and Upper Egypt.
This goddess, originally a terrifying lioness, was adored in the form of a benevolent cat, which had to be tranquilised regularly through ritual. The daughter of the sun god, she was identified with the “eye of Ra”, which destroys his eternal enemy, the snake Apep. Venerated from the Old Kingdom in the city of Bubastis (present day Tell Basta), in the eastern Delta, her cult was most widespread in the Late and Greek-Roman Age. In her temple, extended over the centuries, a great feast was held in her honour, which the Greek historian Herodotus describes as one of the most magnificent.
This specimen in bronze portrays a cat, slightly larger than life-size, seated on its hind legs. The eyes, now lost, were made of vitreous paste or stone, and the ears are pierced to enable earrings to be inserted, also lost. The engraved decoration consists of a chain of shells alternated with spherical pearls, from which an udjiat eye is suspended as a symbol of regeneration, and a hemispherical breastplate topped with a lion’s head, possibly referring to the goddess Bastet as a lioness; a scarab, also a symbol of regeneration, is engraved on the head.
The remains of the linen strips that originally bound the statuette are also conserved on it, attached to the surface with a resinous substance.
The object entered the Vatican in 1847, along with other bronze urns and cat mummies.