The secret behind Mona Lisa’s smile may soon be cracked, thanks to facial recognition technology.
Professor Conrad Rudolph, a professor of medieval art history at the University of California at Riverside, has won funding to use advanced facial recognition technology to try to solve the mysteries of some of the world's most famous works of art. Rudolph wants to apply cutting-edge forensic science to thousands of portraits and busts where the identity of the subject has been lost.
Rudolph’s team will use facial recognition software on death masks of known individuals and then compare them to busts and portraits. If the software can find a match where Rudolph and his team know one exists, then it shows the technique works and can be used on unknown subjects to see if it can match them up with known identities.
The identity of the subjects of some of the most famous pictures in the world are unknown, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, a 17th-century portrait. The truth behind several paintings of Shakespeare – such as the Chandos portrait and the Cobbe portrait – has also been much disputed. It is possible facial recognition software could help solve these mysteries.
The Guardian tells us how:
To be identified, the subject of a portrait would need to be matched to the identity of another named person in a separate picture. But Rudolph has some tricks up his sleeve. He believes that another forensic technique – whereby an "ageing" programme is run on a subject – could also help solve art mysteries. In fighting crime the software is usually used to produce "adult" pictures of children who have been missing for many years. But it could see if the Girl with a Pearl Earring had been painted again as a much older woman, whose identity might be known.
Away from the high-profile cases there are a legion of other unknown subjects that might be more easily identified. In many works from before the 19th century wealthy patrons often inserted themselves, their families or friends and business associates into crowd scenes.
Facial recognition technology could be used to identify some of these people from already known works and thus provide insight into personal, political and business relationships of the day. In other cases families in wealthy homes commissioned busts of relatives that were often sold when estates went bankrupt or families declined.