Image Credits: De Brécy Trust

Two universities have used artificial intelligence to discover the truth behind a mysterious portrait that is likely to be a Raphael painting.

The de Brécy Tondo masterpiece has been researched for over 40 years.

Professor of Visual Computing at the University of Bradford, Hassan Ugail, developed the facial recognition system that has been used throughout the recent studies.

Professor Ugail said: “Looking at the faces with the human eye shows an obvious similarity, but the computer can see far more deeply than we can, in thousands of dimensions, to pixel-level.

“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.”

The system can identify patterns in images with a greater accuracy than the human eye, the deep neural network is used to pass data through many filters.

Dr Christopher Brooke, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, is an expert in digital image analysis and co-authored the research paper.

Dr Christopher Brooke said: “In this case study, direct facial comparison comes out at a match of 97 per cent– a very high statistical probability that the artworks are by identical creators.

“Further confirmation comes from analysis of the pigments employed in the Tondo, using Scanning Electron Microscopy and Raman spectroscopy, 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.”

He added: “This is an exciting piece of work that promises much for the future examination of works of art.”

Research teams at the two universities used new facial recognition technology to analyse the painting and compare the faces from the mystery painting with the Sistine Madonna piece also by Raphael which were evaluated as identical.

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



The 97 per cent similarity between the two pictures is proven to be strong as a similarity above 75 per cent is deemed identical.

Previous studies by Howell Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Molecular Spectroscopy at the University of Bradford, discovered pigments contained in the Tondo piece matched the early pre 1700 Renaissance art.

The Tondo has been in the possession of businessman, George Lester Winward, since 1981.

He collected artwork spanning between the sixteenth to nineteenth century.

Before his death he set up the de Brécy Trust Collection, making them accessible for art scholars to study and to preserve his vast collection consisting of 30 paintings and drawings.

Other articles to read:

Nottingham City Council uses AI to become carbon neutral by 2028

Student’s offered discounted tram travel for 80p a day with ‘refresher’ pass