This exquisitely-carved amulet represents the lion-headed goddess of protection, joy, and fertility, who, together with Sekhmet, was one of the most important feline goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon. Originally the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, Bastet’s role later transformed into powerful protector goddess, often taking the form of a cat as well as a lion-headed deity. Here, the goddess is enthroned in a rigid frontal pose, symbolising her inherent and formidable power. She holds a musical instrument known as a sistrum, decorated with the face of the goddess Hathor, which alludes to her role as patron goddess of religious festivals and music. She also holds a papyrus sceptre, symbol of fertility and new life. The finely-wrought openwork throne is adorned on either side with a Djed pillar, signifying stability, and a Nehebkau (two-headed snake), god of protection and magic.
Bastet was primarily venerated as goddess of fertility, fecundity, and maternal protection and, as such, amulets in her likeness were often worn by women, intended to harness the powers of the goddess. Along with another lion-headed goddess, Sekhmet, warrior goddess of Upper Egypt, Bastet was also considered to have a fearsome aspect, a more violent side that needed to be propitiated through specific ritual and works of art, such as the present amulet. The fine workmanship, unusual stone, and scale of this example all suggest that it probably belonged to a royal personage or other elite individual, intended to bestow on the wearer the goddess’ perpetual protection.
A similar example of Sekhmet, but in the more common medium of faience, and smaller in scale, belongs to the collection of the British Museum, London (inv. no. 1913,0308.5, circa 900-700 BC). A glazed steatite amulet of Bastet is in the collection of the John Hopkins Archaeological Museum (inv. no. 3603, Third Intermediate Period, twenty-fifth dynasty, circa 747-656 BC).
Former collection of Miss Agnes Barclay, UK, 1930s.