'Divine Felines' Are the Stars of This Exhibit

The Cincinnati Art Museum presents a look at felines through the ages.
July 12, 2016, 9:15pm
Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt installation view, courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum

From 975 B.C.E bronze sculptures, to a modern day collection of internet cat videos, Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt presents cats as both as pets and mythic symbols of divinity, through 80 representations of cats from the Brooklyn Museum's world-famous Egyptian collection. Now on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the show describes our attraction to felines while paying homage to our other domesticated counterpart. Explains Cincinnati Art Museum curator, Julie Aronson, to The Creators Project, “The allure of felines and canines comes from a long history of praise for the species. Egyptians admired cats’ fertility, strength, athleticism and protectiveness of their young. With domestication, both cats and dogs became the cherished companions we know today.”


Cat's Head, 30 B.C.E. to third century C.E.. Bronze, gold, 2 3/8 x 1 3/4 x 1 13/16 in. 4.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund

Most will agree on the inherent aesthetic beauty of cats, but this show goes beyond. “Cats have elegant forms, intriguing patterns, colors and markings (today in greater variety than in ancient Egypt), and grace of movement," says Aronson. "There is also an attraction to their wild streak—that independence they hold onto. I think the attraction of cats for artists has more to do with the visual and emotional appeal of the cat’s inherent characteristics.”


Cat with Kittens, ca. 664-30 B.C.E. or later. Bronze, wood, 2 3/8 x 3 7/16 x 1 15/16 in. Base: 1 x 3 3/16 x 4 1/16 in. Brooklyn Museum. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund

As Aronson describes, “Most of the works in the show are sculptures made of wood, stone and bronze. Some of the most intimate pieces are the most evocative, including a tiny cat nursing her kittens that represents the goddess Bastet. Some pieces, such as a coffin for a cat mummy, relate to funerary practices, while others were religious offerings or items of daily life. The exhibition is designed to appeal to all audiences and includes interactives for families with children. The companion exhibition, Modern Cat, of 22 prints with feline subjects, brings the representation of cats in art up to the present day.”


Figure of a Cat, 305 B.C.E.-1st century C.E.. Wood (sycamore fig), gilded gesso, bronze, copper, pigment, rock crystal, glass, 26 3/8 x 7 1/4 x 19 in. Brooklyn Museum. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund

The show also connects to current technology through the role of the internet cat video. “Internet videos have elevated the status of the cat largely through humor. Cats can be very entertaining!” Aronson admits enthusiastically. The museum moves from ancient Egyptian cats to modern-day with the upcoming Internet Cat Video Festival, to be held in conjunction with the exhibit. Nicknamed #catvidfest and organized by Minneapolis' Walker Art Center, it's an hour-long program of about 100 cat clips.

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Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt installation view, courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum

Ultimately, Aronson explains a deeper motivation behind the show: “We live in a time when the world is getting smaller through new technologies. But as much as ever, people lack understanding and appreciation of other cultures, leading to xenophobia and conflict. Art can help bridge cultural differences, connecting us with those from other places and times.”

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt runs now through Sept. 11 at the Cincinnati Art Museum.


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