Roman Period Rock Crystal Sculpture of a Cat - X.0727 - For Sale

Roman Period Rock Crystal Sculpture of a Cat - X.0727
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Origin: Egypt
Circa: 100 AD to 300 AD
Dimensions: 3.25" (8.3cm) high x 10" (25.4cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian
Style: Roman Period
Medium: Rock Crystal
The importance of cats to ancient Egyptian society cannot be overstated. They appear regularly in mythological and reincarnation myths, are made into goddesses (such as Bastet) and were mummified with as much care and reverence as their human counterparts. It is therefore little wonder that sculptures of them are not uncommon. However, they are usually carved from basalt or alabaster, or painted on the caskets or tombs of the deceased. This is the most remarkable feline carving we have seen. Rock crystal, the material from which our cat is sculpted, appears to have been reserved for deluxe creations during the pharaonic period. The material underwent something of a revival during the Roman Imperial Period when wealthy Romans took full advantage of Egypt’s immense cultural heritage to decorate their homes, palaces and tombs. Other examples of this include the Roman fad for mummification, for although the tradition had been on the decline for some time before the Roman occupation, the occupying forces were much taken by the longevity of Egypt’s Old Kingdom rulers’ physical remains. While the mummification practiced during the late period was often decidedly lackadaisical, however, superb works of art were often produced by artisans working in a wide range of scarce and costly materials. Our cat – although the possibility of the piece representing some other feline species cannot be ruled out – is naturalistically represented in an alert yet recumbent attitude, with its body drawn up into a semi-circle and fore paws touching. The hind legs are drawn up yet relaxed, and the tail is wrapped alongside them. The detailing of anatomical features is achieved with extreme precision, down to the rings on the tail that characterize depictions of certain species of ancient Egyptian cats. Our cat’s head is slightly raised with its eyes focused straight ahead as if startled or surveying potential danger; this impression is enhanced by the fact that the cat’s ears are drawn toward the back of its head. The rarity of this specimen is such that the role it originally played in the society that produced it is unclear. There are two possibilities – either that is genuinely portrays a feline subject of some affection for the sculptor (or the person who commissioned the work), or that it is a reflection of the perpetuating reverence for the goddess Bastet, which continued into Roman times. The sheer size of the object (10” long) and the rarity of the material would seem to suggest the latter, for it would otherwise seem to be a devastatingly expensive way of expressing affection for a feline companion. Malek, J. The Cat in Ancient Egypt (London 1993) Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P. BM Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London 1995). - (X.0727)

Ancient Egyptian
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Barakat Gallery
405 North Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills
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