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Facial Recognition Software Could've Discovered a Rare Anne Boleyn Portrait

By Jamie Condliffe on at

When Anne Boleyn was executed in 1536, images of the beheaded queen were destroyed leaving only one certain depiction of her in existence. Now, facial recognition software may have discovered another contemporary portrait of Boleyn.

The only uncontested portrait of her is atop a battered disc made of lead, known as the Moost Happi medal, sitting in the British Museum in London. But now, reports the Guardian, researchers in California have used facial recognition to compare the face on the Moost Happi medal with other paintings — and have found a close match with a portrait held at the Bradford Art Galleries and Museums. This image shows a women wearing jewellery that's long been thought to belong to Boleyn, though some scholars claim that it is worn by Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII, in the picture.

The software uses anatomical measurements (the width of noses, distance between the eyes, straightness of eyebrows and so on) to recognise similarities and differences between paintings. Presented with a new image, it will provide a probability that it's a likeness of a person who's been depicted in other portraits. It can never be perfect, because artist styles differ and there aren't as many paintings as there are, say, Facebook pictures, but it can still perform a reasonable job.

Now, presenting his work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose, California, academic Amit Roy-Chowdhury has described how the program's been trained using the Moost Happi medal image. In the process, it showed that the portrait held at the Bradford Art Galleries and Museums is a likely painting of the queen. Roy-Chowdhury has also explained that the software has found what may be the earliest portrait of the astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Likely, the software will also have kick-started debates among art historians the world over, too. [Guardian]

Image by Bradford Art Galleries and Museums