New find puts Anne Boleyn in the picture

A new chapter in the story of Anne Boleyn worthy of an episode of Wolf Hall has been unveiled, thanks to facial recognition technology. Henry VIII’s attempt to erase his second wife from history after chopping off her head may have been thwarted after more than 470 years.

New find puts Anne Boleyn in the picture

The only undisputed portrait of the queen has been an image stamped into a 4cm-wide lump of lead held in the British Museum known as The Moost Happi medal. Other paintings have courted controversy with experts disagreeing about their authenticity.

But now computer technology has highlighted one picture, the Nidd Hall Portrait, that seems to be a genuine painting of Anne even though it was previously thought by some to depict another of Henry’s wives, Jane Seymour. The same facial recognition software indicated that other portraits of the beheaded queen, including one hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, are actually nothing of the sort.

Dr Roy Chowdhury, from the University of California at Riverside, who developed the technology, said: “Portraits often have some importance. They represent someone of social standing, or some significant event. Who is being depicted in a portrait can consequently be an area of considerable controversy among art historians.

“The goal of this project is to be able to use state-of-the-art face recognition to identify the individuals seen in a particular portrait.”

The software was developed from systems already used to identify people in CCTV images. It uses a verifiable portrait, in this case the The Moost Happi medal, to find certain hallmark features that can be recognised in another picture.

A similar attempt to confirm the authenticity of portraits of William Shakespeare proved unsuccessful, a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California, was told.

Dr Chowdhury had more luck with Italian pioneer astronomer Galileo Galilei.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox