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Friday, December 4, 2015

Brooklyn Museum: Statuette of a leonine goddess.

Divine Felines is winding down on November 29th here in Brooklyn. So, I want to focus on one of the exhibition's star objects, and my personal favorite—a very beautiful and interesting statuette of a leonine goddess made of wood with gold gilding which originally contained a cat mummy. Every feature of this statuette—like its form, pose, materials, etc.—is common in ancient Egyptian art. But the combination of these individual features is very unusual. 

The goddess' lion head with a uraeus-cobra on the forehead, and remains of a now missing sun disk identify her as one of the daughters of the sun god, Re. Goddesses like Sakhmet, Bastet, Wadjet, Mut, and many others appear in the form of a lion-headed woman. But they are usually depicted standing, striding forward, or sitting on a throne. Our statuette's crouching pose, with both knees drawn up to the torso and legs bound together as if she were a mummy, is very rare. Egyptian artists preferred to use this pose in 2-dimensional representations of Underworld or guardian entities. 

Although millions of cat mummies were created in ancient Egypt, the fact that this statuette served as a container for a mummy is very strange. Cat mummies were usually placed inside either rectangular or cat-shaped containers. Lion-headed goddesses, in turn, usually contained bones of the so-called ichneumon—a type of an Egyptian mongoose. The statue of Wadjet, is actually an ichneumon coffin.

The shape of the floral base on which our goddess sits resembles a papyrus or lotus plant. But, lion-headed goddesses are almost never represented in this form. Rather, standing lion-headed goddesses may hold a papyrus scepter. The goddess Bastet also sometimes appears as a cat sitting on a similar base.

Although we have not been able to pinpoint the identity of this goddess beyond being one of the feline daughters of the sun god, we are grateful that it survived to our day and can be appreciated by our visitors for its grace and beauty.

Posted by Yekaterina Barbash

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