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Egyptian Bronze Sculpture of Bastet with Gold Earrings - X.0337
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 664 BC to 525 BC
Dimensions: 5.25" (13.3cm) high
Collection: Egyptian
Style: 26th Dynasty
Medium: Bronze and Gold

*CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE*

The 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, is traditionally placed by scholars at the end of the Third Intermediate Period or at the beginning of the Late Dynastic Period. In either case, the Saite Period rose from the ashes of a decentralized Egyptian state that had been ravaged by foreign occupation. Supported by the assistance of a powerful family centered in the Delta town of Sais, the Assyrians finally drove the Nubians out of Egypt. At the close of this campaign, Ashurbanipal’s kingdom was at the height of its power; however, due to civil strife back east, he was forced to withdraw his forces from Egypt. Psamtik I, a member of the family from Sais, seized this opportunity to assert his authority over the entire Nile Valley and found his own dynasty, the 26th of Egyptian history. Known as the Saite Period due to the importance of the capital city Sais, the 26th Dynasty, like many before it, sought to emulate the artistic styles of past pharaoh in order to bolster their own claims to power and legitimize their authority.

Yet despite that artist sought to replicate models of the past, Egyptian art of this era was infused with a heightened sense of naturalism. This fact is likely due to the influx of Greek culture. The Saite rulers recognized that Egypt had fallen behind the rest of the Mediterranean world in terms of military technology. Thus, they were forced to rely upon foreign mercenaries, many of whom were Greek. With ties between these two cultures firmly established during the 7th Century B.C., commercial trading quickly blossomed. Special entrepots for foreign traders were established, including the famed center of Naucratis, a Delta town in which Greek merchants were permitted access. During the Saite Period, two great powers of the Mediterranean world became intimately linked, commercially and culturally. As the exchange of ideas flowed across the sea, the Greeks began to experiment on a monumental scale while the Egyptians began to approach art with an enhanced sense of realism.

Ancient Egyptians venerated cats for their ability to keep down the rodent population in the economically important grain fields along the Nile. They were kept as pets in the home and assisted hunters by retrieving their small birds like dogs do today. Because they were economically useful and believed to ensure many children for a family, cats were revered to the point that they were mummified and buried either with their owners or in specially designated cemeteries. The Egyptians had a cat goddess, Bastet, also known as Bast, who was depicted with the body of a woman and the head of a cat, or just as a cat. Goddess of joy, music, and dance, the cult of Bastet was centered in Bubastis in the Nile River Delta, home of the 22nd Dynasty. Although her cult can be traced back to the 4th millennium B.C., she did not become a central goddess until Bubastis became the capital. Herodotus describes her temple in Bubastis as a sanctuary of great splendor, rivaled only in its scope and elegance by the temples of Ra and Horus.

This bronze sculpture of Bastet is a masterpiece of Egyptian art. She is represented with the head of a cat and the body of a woman dressed in a tightly fitting robe. She carries a sistrum rattle in her raised right arm, alluding to her identity as a goddess of music. Gold earrings decorate her pierced ears. It was known that pet cats were also dressed with such luxurious adornments. Certain objects, masterpieces treasured in their own time, are of an eternal beauty that is easily appreciated regardless of era or culture. This magnificent bronze sculpture is one such rare example. - (X.0337)

 

 

 

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