Facial recognition technology identifies possible new Anne Boleyn portrait

Researchers believe they have discovered a new portrait of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. Using new technology developed from CCTV software, they claim to have matched a portrait that currently resides in Bradford Art Galleries and Museums with the only undisputed portrayal of the ill-fated Queen; a small, battered lead medal dating from 1534.

The portrait is an exciting find as most images of Anne were deliberately destroyed after she was executed in 1536. The discovery was made when Conrad Rudolph, an art historian from the University of California, enlisted the help of his colleague Professor Amit Roy-Chowdhury, head of the video computing group at the university. Roy-Chowdhury has developed a program that uses a computer algorithm to map and match faces in painted portraits.

The researchers compared the anatomical dimensions of the face on the medal – known as the Moost Happi medal – with four other paintings believed to be of Anne Boleyn. It failed to match with two other pictures – one from Hever Castle in Kent, and another, currently in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Although the researchers claim that the technology is advanced enough to recognize individual styles of paintings, some art historians have expressed doubts. Bendor Grosvenor says:

“First, in historical portraits we have no control model to use as a true foundation for a face. All the actual sitters are dead. So while it may be possible to make a computer programme make allowances for an artist’s style (and personally I doubt it can) we can never know how an artist translated a real human face onto canvas in the first place.

Then there is the question of wider artistic styles – a Mannerist face will look quite different from a Counter-Reformation face. And finally, there is the question of artistic ability – your average jobbing 16th Century English portrait artists, such as the fellow who made the Hever Castle portrait, would have been simply unable to capture all the intricacies of a face, and could only ever present the very basic elements of a likeness. And sometimes not even that.”

Read more on the story in:

The Telegraph

The Guardian

The Independent

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