An anthropomorphic stele of the 4th millennium B.C. shown as part of the ‘Routes of Arabia’ exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris. (Photo: Michael Harvey/Musee du Louvre, via European Pressphoto Agency)

The most novel show of the year is now on view at the Louvre. “Routes d’Arabie” (Roads of Arabia) sets off the viewer’s mind dreaming like none other.

The revelations to be found in hundreds of artifacts never before seen outside Saudi Arabia are startling.

Forget about Arabia as a land without figural representation. It was already there in the fourth millennium B.C. In a small village near Ha’il, three sandstone steles were dug up within the last four decades. The geometric stylization of one, a standing man with two straps across his chest and a long dagger with split blade, would have appealed to Western avant-garde sculptors of the 20th century. Another stele represents the bust of a man, arms pressed against his chest, reduced to a nearly rectangular volume. By contrast, the head is extraordinarily expressive with its lips bitterly pressed and one eyebrow slightly raised, as if in puzzlement.

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Souren Melikian
New York Times

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