Anyone who has owned a cat will recognize what the kitten on Ipuy’s lap is doing.
This scene is from the funerary chapel above the tomb (TT217) of the Royal Sculptor, Ipuy, who served King Ramesses II around 1250 B.C.
Ipuy would have lived in the royal workers’ village, Deir el-Medina, on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Luxor, and put conservable energy into ensuring his tomb was fitted out beautifully for eternity.
Here Ipuy and his wife, Duammeres, dressed in their finest clothes, are shown accepting decorative bouquets from their son and daughter.
Egyptian tombs are usually heavy with religious motifs, designed to help protect and sustain the deceased in the afterlife in style. However there was still room for some individuality, and Ipuy has a delightfully playful kitten sitting on his lap, its front paw raised, playfully batting at Ipuy’s fancy sleeve.
The adult cat underneath Duammeres’ chair is more standard. The motif of ‘the cat under the chair’ was a common one in Egyptian art, and was a good way to fill the empty space between the chair legs. The cat was usually pictured sitting under the chair of a noble lady, representing her prosperity and fertility.
This cat is unusual however, in that although its body is in normal profile, it’s head gazes straight at us. It also appears to be wearing a silver earring and a striped collar around the neck. That is one pampered pet.
Both cats have a light brown coat with tabby stripes - the typical colour and markings of the Libyan Wildcat, which is now domesticated and keeping the mice away from Ipuy’s estate.
Today the real scene in Ipuy’s tomb is largely degraded, so we are thankful to have this facsimile which was painted on the spot in the early 1920s by Norman de Garis Davies for the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.