I think I’m in love. I’m in that state where you can’t get enough of gazing at the object that inspires admiration and a warm delight that brings an involuntary smile to the face. Glimpsed in a TV documentary this week, a beautiful work of genius suddenly slammed into my awareness like a sledgehammer. Of course I had seen it before, but – well, no: I hadn’t actually SEEN it. Not ABSORBED it. Irritatingly, as is the wont of TV documentaries, it was flashed on the screen for about two seconds. Consequently, I was reduced to googling again. Luckily, Google produced the image for me immediately, and I have been gloating over it ever since.
No, it isn’t Nebamun, handsome fellow that he is – certainly fit in his whiter-than-white kilt (what a silly thing to wear out hunting on a river!) – who has stirred me, but his hunting companion, that wonderful cuddly tabby cat. Nobody knows the name of the genius who painted this scene three and a half millennia ago, and the grave robber who removed these panels and sold them to the British Museum stubbornly refused to disclose the whereabouts of the tomb, which remains lost. Surely, this artist must have worked on more auspicious mausoleums (mausolea?) and yet nowhere, among all the wonders of tombs like that of Tutankhamen, is there depicted such a marvellous moggy.
Ancient Egyptian cats are usually portrayed as long, slim, muscular animals in a static disdainful pose. But Nebamun’s cat is so full of life, so fat and fluffy, it makes you want to stroke it, and you can almost hear it purring in response. Much has been written about this panel and this cat, so I will only refer you to a few websites: this one, which briefly explains how the artist worked in conditions that can only increase our admiration for his skill and talent, and I also found a nice little story here about one of its descendants helping archaeologists excavate a site.
Sadly, the modern Egyptian Mau is suffering badly in its homeland. No longer venerated, but persecuted as a pest, poisoned and mistreated, it may soon be extinct in Egypt as explained here. I risk disappointing you, but I am not going to adopt one of these. For the moment, I shall remain in love with a picture.