Researchers develop recognition software to identify unknown subjects of portrait art

Visual art is highly subjective and biometric identification is absolutely not, but researchers in California are working to develop a facial recognition software that can identify faces in ancient paintings and sculptures.

Set to revolutionize museum curation and preservation, preliminary tests have shown the software can correctly identify Lorenzo de’ Medici from his death mask, and should also be able to interpret different styles from various artists portraying the same person.

According to a statement from the University of California Riverside, the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded researchers at the University a $60,000 grant to continue the team’s development. A $25,000 grant in 2012 allowed the research team — Conrad Rudolph, professor of art history; Amit Roy-Chowdhury, professor of electrical engineering; and Jeanette Kohl, associate professor of art history — to begin establishing general parameters of the technology to recognize faces in portrait art.

In the second phase of the project, the team will build on initial successes to study the applicability of automated face-recognition technologies for analyzing portraits under different paradigms, including artist and period styles.

“Before the advent of photography, portraits were depictions of people who were important in their own worlds,” Rudolph, the project’s principal investigator said in the school’s statement. “But, as a walk through almost any major museum will show, a large number of these unidentified portraits from before the 19th century — many of them great works of art — have lost the identities of their subjects through the fortunes of time.”

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