Arabia's ancient past on show at the Louvre
Wednesday 14 July 2010
For the first time, the ancient past of Saudi Arabia is at the heart of an exhibition at the Louvre museum in Paris, which is showing works that have never left their country before.
The exhibition, which opens on Wednesday, comprises works that "have never been seen not just in the West, but for the most part not in Saudi Arabia," Beatrice Andre-Salvani, director of the department of Near Eastern Antiquities at the Louvre, told AFP.
The show is the outcome of a 2004 accord between the Louvre and the Saudi commission for tourism and antiquities. It will present around 320 pieces, of which two-thirds predate the birth of Islam in the early seventh century.
Called "Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the exhibition was to have been inaugurated Monday by Saudi Arabia's 86-year-old King Abdallah, but his visit to Paris was postponed. Though no reason was given, the Saudi state news agency SPA said Saturday the visit would be rescheduled.
The first fruit of the collaboration agreement, an exhibition in 2006 of masterpieces of Islamic art from the Louvre presented at the National Museum in Riyadh, was opened by King Abdallah and then French president Jacques Chirac.
For several years, the Saudi royal family has shown a sustained interest in Paris' prestigious museum. The building of new halls devoted to Islamic arts was partly financed by a 17 million-euro (21.4 million-dollar) donation by Saudi Prince al-Walid ben Talal.
The works, which will be shown until September 27, come mainly from the collections of the National Museum in Riyadh, the Archaeological Museum at the University of King Saud and regional museums.
"They reveal in particular the little-known past of a dazzling, prosperous Arabic world now being gradually discovered by archaeologists," the Louvre website said
One of these is a small man-shaped statue in sandstone dating from the fourth millennium before Christ that is on show for the first time. The head is leaning slightly to one side, expressing pain or sadness. "I call him 'the suffering man,'" said Andre-Salvini, who is one of the curators of the exhibition.
This funeral statue and similar works could have been interpreted as "pagan idols, those that the Prophet destroyed," she explained.
Several colossal statues in red sandstone apparently represent the rulers of the ancient Arabian kingdom of Lihyan, which played an important part in the caravan trade. Found in the northwest of the country, they were restored by the Louvre, which put back a foot on one and a head on another.
Major archaeological finds were also made in the east of Saudi Arabia, such as the rich tomb of a little girl, dating from the first century AD, with a mask in gold, jewellery and part of the ornate funeral bed.
After the birth of Islam, in the western coastal region of Arabia, trade routes became pilgrim tracks for people wanting to go to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
The exhibition, which also highlights the country's role as the cradle of Islam, showcases a gold-plated door of the Kaaba, which was given to Mecca by an Ottoman sovereign in the 17th century. The door was replaced around 1940, but kept by the Riyadh Museum.
The final part of the exhibition is devoted to King Abdulaziz (1876-1953), known as Ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His greatcoat and his sword are on display. King Abdallah is one of his many sons.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world