Facial Recognition Technology Suggests Raphael Painted the de Brécy Tondo

A group of researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Bradford using facial recognition technology to inspect a canvas known as the de Brécy Tondo discovered that the faces in the painting are identical to those in a Raphael altarpiece. The team concluded that the tondo, whose author had previously been unknown, was likely painted by the Italian master.

The de Brécy Tondo was purchased at an English country-house sale in 1981 by Cheshire businessman George Lester Winward. Though some experts believed it to be a Victorian copy of a Raphael, Winward came to believe that it was by the Renaissance artist himself, based on its close resemblance to Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, held in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden. Spectroscopic analysis performed over a decade ago showed that the painting did indeed date to the Renaissance. When the university researchers compared the two works, they discovered that the similarity between the Madonnas in the two works was 97 percent, that between the children was 86 percent. A similarity higher than 75 percent is considered identical.

Building on the efforts of the University of Bradford’s Howell Edwards, who had earlier performed an intensive investigation of the painting, Hassan Ugail, professor of visual computing at the same school, developed the artificial intelligence facial recognition system the team used to make the match.

“Based on the high evaluation of this analysis, together with previous research, my fellow co-authors and I have concluded identical models were used for both paintings and they are undoubtedly by the same artist,” said Ugail.

Digital image analysis expert Christopher Brooke, an honorary fellow at the University of Nottingham and a coauthor of a forthcoming paper on the project, noted that beyond the startling direct facial comparison match, “further confirmation comes from analysis of the pigments employed in the Tondo, which have demonstrated that the painting’s characteristics are considered to be typical of Renaissance practice and therefore highly unlikely to be a later copy.”

Concluded Brooke, “This is an exciting piece of work that promises much for the future examination of works of art.”


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