Will there be a time when we can do without art historians and critics? Of decades spent in museums and restoration laboratories? Of the multiple themed degrees and more advanced masters? Maybe not, but certainly now artificial intelligence is making great strides in art as well, winning a match against homo sapiens super expert in art history.
In fact, a new facial recognition technology using artificial intelligence has discovered that a painting previously attributed to an unknown artist has a very high probability of being a Raphael masterpiece. A team from the University of Nottingham and the University of Bradford used the technology to examine the painting known as Tondo de Brécy. The researchers, explains the BBC, have discovered that the faces were identical to those of an altarpiece by Raphael. This means that the paintings were most likely created by the same artist. The team compared the de Brécy Tondo, which is in a collection created by Cheshire businessman George Lester Winward and which some experts believed was a Victorian copy, with Raphael’s Sistine Madonna altarpiece held in Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie . The similarity between the Madonnas of the two paintings was found to be 97%, while the comparison of the child in both works resulted in a similarity of 86%. More than 75% similarity is considered identical.
Dr Christopher Brooke, an honorary research fellow at the University of Nottingham, is an expert in digital image analysis and co-authored a research paper on the find. Brooke said: “Direct face comparisons resulted in a 97% match, a very high statistical probability that the artworks are from identical authors. Further confirmation comes from the analysis of the pigments used in the Tondo, which demonstrated that the characteristics of the painting are considered typical of Renaissance practice and therefore it is highly unlikely that it is a later copy. This is exciting work that holds much promise for future examination of the artworks.” The AI facial recognition system was developed by Hassan Ugail, a professor of visual computing at the University of Bradford. Ugail said: “Looking at faces with the human eye there is an obvious similarity, but the computer is capable of seeing much deeper than we do, in thousands of dimensions, at the pixel level. Based on the high rating of this analysis, along with previous research, my fellow co-authors and I concluded that identical models were used for both paintings and that they are undoubtedly by the same artist. The research builds on earlier work by Howell Edwards, of the University of Bradford, who had already carried out a thorough examination of the painting.
Winward purchased the Tondo in 1981 as part of a collection of art spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. In 1995, two years before his death, he established the de Brécy Trust Collection, named after his French ancestors, to preserve his collection of paintings and drawings and make them available to art scholars. Timothy Benoy, honorary secretary of the de Brécy Trust, said: “The Trust is absolutely delighted that this new scientific evidence confirms the attribution to Raffaello del Tondo. It illustrates very convincingly the growing value of scientific evidence in the attribution of a painting». Publication of an academic paper on the analysis is expected soon.