The cat was first domesticated in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom, likely for their mouse-hunting abilities. The earliest three-dimensional representation of a cat is an alabaster vessel now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 29 in Malek, The Cat in Ancient Egypt. By the New Kingdom, cats had become household companions, as seen on tomb paintings and reliefs, sometimes seated under their master's chair or on board marsh boats, presumably serving to flush out birds for their masters (see nos. 32-41 in Malek, op. cit.).
During the Third Intermediate Period, the cat came to be identified with the goddess Bastet. Her cult center was at Bubastis in the Nile Delta, and her cult rose to prominence during Dynasty XXII, whose rulers came from there. The cat presented here, which on stylistic ground dates to this period, is thought to be the largest of its kind to have survived from ancient Egypt.