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DMA Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt

DMA presents Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt

I can honestly say that I am not much of a cat person. The beautiful felines are too aloof and magisterial for my liking; I would always prefer the company of a predictable dog. However, it doesn’t surprise me that cats, with all their unpredictability and duplicity, have been the focus of worship by the Ancient Egyptians. Their fascination with the cult of a feline seems all too understandable, given the unfathomable nature of the beautiful beasts. Cats exhibit the uncanny capacity for spite, just as much as they exude serenity and warmth. Predator and Mother coexist in a cat’s soul in the same manner, as destruction and fertility coexist in nature.

The upcoming exhibit Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt at the Dallas Museum of Art will feature cats and lions in ancient Egyptian mythology, religion and everyday life through a variety of object representations. The exhibit was a tremendous success in its home location at the world-famous Brooklyn Museum, and is now scheduled to open in Dallas on October 9th, 2016.

More than 80 objects have travelled to our fair city to help us personally experience the ancient Egyptian’s fascination with a Cat in all its manifestations – wild and domestic, luxurious and religious.

Contrary to popular belief, the domestication of cats didn’t happen in Egypt, but most probably occurred in Ancient Mesopotamia. The Egyptians didn’t worship the cats themselves, but endowed a number of deities with the characteristics and features of the felines, among them – Mut, Sakhmet, Bastet, Tefnut, Shesemtet, Pakhet, Mafdet and Wadjet. Amongst the most notable is Sakhmet – a vengeful spirit and an enforcer of the sun god Re, her father. You would be happy to know that if it weren’t for a bout of drunkenness, this lovely creature would have destroyed mankind on her father’s orders. That’s if we believe the Egyptian myths, of course. Bastet, on the other hand, was a pussycat. A bronze statue shows her nursing her brood, lovingly gazing on her kittens and the humanity. Her powers included the gift of life.

Among male deities, endowed with feline likeness, is the god Bes – an unattractive looking creature with a grotesque lion’s face and a dwarfish looking body. Despite his appearance, he was a beneficial character, not a spiteful one. He was responsible for healing the sick, protecting women in childbirth, and guarding babies through infancy. Perhaps, also due to his promise to increase wealth and fortune, as well as his merry disposition, Bes became very popular with the ancient Egyptians, who adorned themselves with the amulets of his likeness.

Whatever your personal attitude towards cats, the exhibit is promising to be informative, entertaining, and simply beautiful. Plus, it is going to be accompanied by a purrrfect narration that will enlighten you on all things feline and ancient Egyptian. If you feel a bit discriminated on behalf of your Pooch, don’t despair. The curators included a small selection of objects dedicated to dogs. Now, you really have no excuse to miss it. I know – I won’t.

God Tutu as a Sphinx 1st century C.E. or later Limestone, painted Overall: 14 1/4 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
Figure of a Cat 305 B.C.E.–1st century C.E. Wood (sycamore fig), gilded gesso, bronze, copper, pigment, rock crystal, glass Overall: 26 3/8 x 7 1/4 x 19 in. (67 x 18.4 x 48.3 cm) Brooklyn Museum. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund , 37.1945E

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Photography by: Via DMA