Cats in Art - In Antiquity


Ancestors resembling modern cats first appeared about 10 million years ago, but they were completely wild and did not associate with humans. As humans learned to farm, their grain crops attracted mice and birds, and these, in turn, attracted cats. Gradually, around 8,000 years ago, cats and humans learned that they could form a mutually beneficial relationship --the humans protected and sheltered cats who, in return, protected their human's grain supplies.
Farming released humans from the need to hunt and gather for survival, giving them the free time to develop the tools and skills required to express themselves artistically. So you see, without our help, humans would never have gotten around to creating art in the first place.
Cat Stalking a Pheasant, mural fragment, c. 1600-1580 B.C.

The palace walls of Minoan Crete were covered with naturalistic murals, many of them showing animals and birds among luxuriant vegetation.

Unfortunately, only fragments of these paintings have survived, so we hardly ever have a complete composition. In this fragment, we see a cat behind a bush cautiously stalking a pheasant who seems unaware that it's about to be "pounced."

[c. 1600-1580 B.C., mural fragment, Crete]

Dagger blade, bronze, c. 1600-1500 B.C.
This inlaid bronze dagger blade from the royal tombs at Mycenae (Greece) depicts a cat doing what cats do best --hunting, of course! In this case, the cat has charged into a flock of waterfowl.
[c. 1600-1500 B.C., bronze, Mycenae]

Fowling Scene, wall painting, c. 1450 B.C.
This fragment of a wall painting in the tomb of Amenemheb at Thebes in Egypt depicts the deceased nobleman standing in his boat and driving the birds from a papyrus swamp with a stick. His hunting cat, just in front of him, has caught two birds in its front and hind claws and is holding the wings of a third bird in its teeth.

[c. 1450 B.C., wall painting fragment, Thebes]

We were, and are, simply divine.

The cat was sacred to the Egyptian goddess Bast. Cemeteries containing the bodies of mummified sacred cats have been discovered with bronze statues of cats, like this one which is dated to around 600 B.C.

[c. 600 B.C., bronze, Egypt]

Cat Effigy, bronze, c. 600 B.C.
Cat and Kitten, bronze, c. 600 B.C.

Cats are known to have been a part of Egyptian households by 1600 B.C. although they were not deified until much later. This touching portrayal of a mama cat with her kitten provides a glimpse of domestic life in the good old days when cats were everyday objects of worship.

[c. 600 B.C., bronze, Egypt]


Mosaic tile renderings of gods, goddesses, flora and fauna covered the walls and floors of the finest homes of the Roman Empire. This mosaic portrait of a hunting cat and his catch was discovered during excavations of the houses in Pompeii.

[c. 1st century A.D., mosaic, Italy]

Hunting Cat, mosaic, c. 1st century A.D.