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Romanesque art
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I’m a cat, mother of life

Nowhere is a cat revered like in Egypt. The complex metaphorical meaning that world mythology endowed with the image of this beautiful intelligent animal, the Egyptians reduced to positive, pleasant to human consciousness concepts – such as kindness, home hearth, fun, love, motherhood, fertility, protective forces.

In ancient Egypt, there was a very significant cult of the goddess – the cat Bastet (Bast), which was also considered the personification of sunlight and moonlight. The goddess was portrayed as a maiden with a cat’s head or in the form of a lioness. Bastet was considered the daughter of Osiris and Isis. Prayers were dedicated to her: “She can bestow life and strength, all the health and joy of the heart” or “I am a cat, the mother of life.” In her honor, cats were worshiped, mummified, a mouse was placed next to them so that cats had something to have fun and eat in the afterlife.

In Egypt, cats were mummified, a mouse was placed nearby, so that cats had something to have fun and eat in the afterlife

The cat cult appeared in the most ancient period of Egyptian history (the second dynasty) and lasted until the 1st century BC. The religious center of worship was the city of Bubastis, where, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, was the most beautiful temple in Egypt, dedicated to Bastet. In the main sanctuary stood a huge statue of the goddess. During the annual spring festivities, the statue was taken out of the temple and solemnly transported on a boat along the banks of the Nile. These sacred animals were bred there and it was there that a large number of mummies of cats were preserved.

Sacred cats were fed milk and bread; for them, fish that did not have scales were specially bred in tanks. The one who attempted the life of cats was severely punished. The cat was protected by law and dare to raise a hand on her, threatened with the death penalty. After the death of cats, they buried them according to a ritual reminiscent of a human being: the owners of the cat and their relatives shaved their eyebrows as a sign of mourning, and the cat’s body was embalmed. The finished mummy was sewn into a linen shroud or enclosed in a sarcophagus and placed in one of the countless necropolises specially designed for cats and built along the banks of the Nile. At the end of the last century, tens of thousands of cat mummies were found near the village of Beni Hasan in Lower Egypt. The worship of the cat in Egypt was so great that in 525 BC, as the legend says, this led to terrible consequences. Persian king Cambyses decided to capture the Nile Valley. The Persians did not know how to storm the fortified cities and were forced to stop at the walls of the city of Pelusia. Cambyses had a brilliant thought: on his orders, each soldier attached a live cat to his chest so that it was clearly visible. The army moved forward, protected by human shields. The Egyptians were afraid to injure or kill the sacred animals and surrendered. Cambyses conquered Egypt and founded the 27th dynasty. (Bernard Brie. Wild cats. M: Dialogue, 1995)

Egyptian plastic has left us many wonderful statuettes of beautiful cats.

Figurine cat

Egyptian art has always been famous for the image of animals. The animalistic plastitka of Egypt reached great development during the Sais period (663-525 BC).

In the 7th century BC, the unification of Egypt took place under the rule of the pharaohs, who founded the 26th dynasty. The capital of an independent state was the city of Sais. The culture of this era was characterized by an appeal to the traditions of the Ancient Kingdom, the desire to idealize the distant past. Sais craftsmen, borrowing ancient art canons, created a peculiar style, cold and refined; achieved high technical perfection. In the museums of our country, among various genres and types of Egyptian art, animalistic sculpture is also presented. Bronze figurines of cats of the Saissian period are exhibited in the Hermitage, the Pushkin Museum, the Museum of Oriental Art, etc. The Arkhangelskoye estate museum located near Moscow has a statuette with a mummified cat’s head inside. This sculpture, brought to Russia in 1850, was found in the pyramids of Saqqara in Lower Egypt, near Memphis.

Bronze figurines of cats are distinguished by the finest surface modeling. Soft contours emphasize the plasticity of the body, graceful silhouette. Masterfully conveyed the naturalness and grace of the beast .. Figures, as a rule, richly indicated. At the statuettes from the Hermitage, necklaces around the neck, scarabs on the crown of the head and eyes are inlaid with gold.

Cat figurine Cat figurine Cat figurine

Made with love, these figurines are exquisite and at the same time they are discreetly detached, even strict. As if reminding everyone that Bastet is the gracious incarnation of the formidable lion-headed goddess Sohmet, daughter of the sun god Ra, supporting Maat – universal harmony – and punishing those who violate it.

Figurine cat

And here are some modern images of Bastet.

modern image of cat Bastet modern image of cat Bastet

Maybe this is a living embodiment of the ancient goddess?

National Gallery, London, England
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