Divine Cat: Speaking to the Gods in Ancient Egypt

by Deborah Leggate -

Shetland Museum and Archives is pleased to welcome the Gayer-Anderson Cat from the collection of the British Museum – on loan from 8th September until 9th December 2012.

The Cat is an Egyptian bronze statue, crafted around 600BC and gifted to the British Museum in 1939 by Robert Greville "John" Gayer-Anderson, a retired British Army Major and collector of ancient art.

Gayer-Anderson was an enthusiastic restorer of ancient metal objects, and recent x-rays carried out by the British Museum have identified repairs which he carried out in the 1930's.  Scientific investigations undertaken in 2007 helped to identify that the cat was made from copper alloy with a silver necklace and gold rings.  Research has indicated that the gold rings are not original but are most probably ancient.

In ancient Egypt wealthy individuals dedicated bronze statues in temples as a means of communicating with the gods.  Thousands of such votive statues would accumulate in any one temple.  Priests would regularly gather up the statues and bury them in specially prepared pits within the sacred grounds of the temple.  This statue, perhaps of the goddess Bastet, would probably have been dedicated in this way, but only a pharaoh or a very wealthy individual would have been able to afford such a large statue with precious metal inlays and jewellery.

The Gayer-Anderson Cat is a particularly popular artefact within the British Museum collection and has been the star of its own dedicated exhibition within the Museum, and  has only been seen in two other exhibitions outside the Museum.

Following on from the success of the Lewis Chessmen exhibition in 2011, discussions have been held with the British Museum regarding the loan of other items to give the Shetland audience an opportunity to see high profile and unusual items locally.  The Cat is the first in what will hopefully be a series of loans in an on-going partnership with the national museum.

This loan has been facilitated through the British Museum's Spotlights loans, which are funded by way of the Museum receiving The Art Fund Prize 2011 for their successful partnership project with the BBC and heritage venues throughout the country for A History of the World.

The Cat will be on display in the Shetland Museum and Archives foyer from Saturday 8th September to Sunday 9th December 2012.  Neal Spencer, Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum will give a lecture on the Gayer Anderson Egyptian Cat in the Museum and Archives Auditorium at 11.30am on Saturday 8th September. This will be a free event and no booking is required.

Additional children and family workshops will be run during the exhibition, providing an opportunity to learn more about this fascinating object.  Details will be announced through local press.