The Gayer-Anderson cat in the Egyptian sculpture gallery.

The Gayer-Anderson cat

Room 4

Room 4

See more objects from Egypt in the Egyptian sculpture gallery.

The beauty and charm of cats has enchanted many writers, artists and sculptors over the years.

View a 3D model of the Gayer-Anderson cat and discover why this elegant bronze figure is one of the most admired objects in the Egyptian sculpture gallery at the British Museum. 

What is it?

The Gayer-Anderson cat is a bronze figure depicting one form of the goddess Bastet. The goddess was usually shown as a cat-headed woman, or in the form of a cat. Her principal cult centre was Bubastis in the Nile Delta. Bastet was a mother goddess and benign counterpart to the more aggressive lion goddess Sekhmet.

The cat dates from the Late Period of ancient Egypt around 600 BC. It's named after Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, who donated the statue to the British Museum in 1939. Gayer-Anderson was a keen collector of small Egyptian sculptures, jewellery and pottery. He showcased these in his home in Cairo, now known as the Gayer-Anderson Museum.

This bronze figure probably comes from a temple.Thousands of bronze figures of gods, in varying sizes and forms, were dedicated in temples throughout Egypt. The donors of the statues hoped to communicate with the gods. Only the king or someone very wealthy could have afforded to commission an example as fine as this cat, adorned with precious metals.

The sculpture wears a silver protective pectoral and golden earrings and nose ring. The scarab beetle on the cat's head and chest symbolises rebirth, while the silver wedjat-eye on the pectoral invoked protection and healing.

Where to see it

The Gayer-Anderson cat is the most famous object of Robert Gayer-Anderson's collection of oriental art. He kept a copy for his museum in Cairo, but donated the original to the British Museum, which you can see in the Egyptian sculpture gallery in Room 4.

Quote

The Gayer-Anderson Cat.

This cat figure is among the very finest surviving from ancient Egypt, and justly regarded as one of the British Museum's greatest masterpieces.

Marcel Marée, curator for the Egyptian sculpture gallery at the British Museum

3D model of the Gayer-Anderson cat

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Scientific analysis

Scientists at the British Museum investigated the cat using X-ray fluorescence and discovered that the cat is made from bronze containing 84.7% copper, 13% tin, 2.1% arsenic and 0.2% lead.

When Major Gayer-Anderson owned the cat in the 1930s, he repaired a large crack on its body and wedged a metal cylinder inside its head, perhaps to keep the statue in one piece. The cat was then covered in green paint, which disguised many of the changes until it was X-rayed.

Cats in Egypt

In ancient Egypt, cats were highly valued as pets but also acquired religious significance. Cats were also popular because they kept granaries and the home free of mice, rats and snakes.

Cats were considered to be a manifestation of the goddess Bastet, but were not quite sacred themselves. Some tomb paintings show cats sitting by their owners, sometimes with food nearby. 

In parts of Egypt, cats were bred in large numbers, so that worshippers of Bastet could show their devotion to the goddess by paying for a cat's ceremonial burial.

Further reading

  • Neal Spencer, The Gayer-Anderson Cat, British Museum Objects in Focus (British Museum Press, 2007)
  • Juliet Clutton-Brock, The British Museum Book of Cats (AVA Publishing SA, 2012)
  • Delia Pemberton, Cats. (British Museum Press, 2006)