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Feline imagery in ancient Egypt, subject of exhibition on view at Brooklyn Museum
God Tutu as a Sphinx. Reportedly from Saqqara, Egypt. Roman Period, 1st century C.E. or later. Limestone, painted, 14¼ x 5-1/16 x 16-11/16 in. (36.2 x 12.8 x 42.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1509E.
BROOKLYN, NY.- From domesticated cats to mythic symbols of divinities, felines played an important role in ancient Egypt imagery for thousands of years. Now, nearly thirty diverse representations of felines from the world-famous Egyptian holdings of the Brooklyn Museum are on view in Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt. The exhibition, which explores the roles of cats, lions, and other feline creatures in Egyptian mythology, kingship, and everyday life, is on view from July 24, 2013, through December 2014.

Likely first domesticated in ancient Egypt, cats were revered for their fertility and valued for their ability to protect homes and granaries from vermin. But felines were also associated with royalty and closely linked with a number of deities. Combining a lion’s body and a king’s head, sphinxes guarded temple entrances and provided protection as temple objects. The ferocious goddess Sakhmet, depicted as a lioness or lion-headed woman, and the goddess Bastet, represented as a cat or a cat-headed woman, together symbolized the duality of feline nature—caring yet dangerous. The male leonine gods Bes and Tutu were popularly worshipped as protectors of fertility, health, and fortune.

On public view for the first time is an extraordinary gilded Leonine Goddess (770–412 b.c.e.), a lion-headed female crouching on a papyrus-shaped base, that entered the Brooklyn collection in 1937; the statuette was conserved for this installation. The exhibition’s cats and feline divinities range from a large limestone sculpture of a recumbent lion (305–30 b.c.e.), to a diminutive bronze sphinx of King Sheshenq (945–718 b.c.e.), to a small cast-bronze figurine of a cat nursing four kittens (664–30 b.c.e.). Also presented are furniture and luxury items, decorated with feline features, in many media.

Divine Felines is organized by Yekaterina Barbash, Associate Curator of Egyptian Art at the Brooklyn Museum.





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