The inscription on each side reads al-'izz wa al-iqbal wa (Glory and prosperity and).
A small number of similar cats are known and published. The present example however is has a crispness of detail and a finesse of decoration that is not matched in the others. Where the patination has come away the colour of the metal indicates that this lion is made with "white bronze" with a high tin content which is harder, more brittle, and can be engraved with considerably more precision than the metal normally encountered.
A well-known example of a similar lion is in the Hermitage Museum (Mikhail B. Piotrovsky and John Vrieze (ed.), Earthly Beauty, Heavenly Art, Amsterdam, 2000, no.205, p.230. Inlaid with copper, and also with pictorial panels engraved on the haunches, it could have been cast in the same mould, but has had a very different crasftsman working it thereafter. Two further examples were in the Harari Collection (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, London, 1938, pl.1306 B & C). A further example, again with much less crisp decoration, was sold recently at Sotheby's (24 October 2007, lot 94).
Various uses have been suggested for these. The most probable is that of a carpet or textile weight. One example in a private collection retains a large lump of lead in the interior. A pottery cat of similar size and disposition made in 12th century Iran was in these Rooms 23 October 2007, lot 95. That had been made with a solid body, again indicating the most probable use as a weight. They make the perfect weight, sitting there, and yet also looking up with a certain feline naturalism, perfectly combining their decorative and practical functions.