Tuesday, 10 March 2009

William Shakespeare had Bette Davis eyes: so says facial recognition software

Have you seen the magnificent new-found portrait of William Shakespeare? According to Science Daily, Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and one of the world’s leading experts on Shakespearian studies, has announced the discovery of a portrait of Shakespeare, which he believes is almost certainly the only authentic image of Shakespeare made from life.

What's more, this enigmatic portrait appears to be the the original source of the copper engraving of a bald, round-headed man on the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays.

'Up to now, ' reports Reuters, 'only two images have been accepted as authentic representations of what the most famous English writer may have looked like; both painted posthumously and based on recollections around 1623.'

I'm sure this announcement will lead to years of furious debate and persnickety nitpicking among scholars, but what do I care? I am entranced by this luminous portrait.

This is exactly what I think Shakespeare ought to have looked like. The cool, noble, high forehead (and, receding hairline notwithstanding, that forehead needed to be high, in order to contain a planet-size brain), the intelligent, tranquil gaze of those deep-set eyes, the ever-so-slight lift of the eyebrows, the tender, sensuous mouth...

Pass the smelling salts, Mavis, I'm about to swoon.

Anyway, there was something about this face that struck a deep chord, as faces do. There's a sensitivity about his expression, and a fineness of his features, that I usually associate with with female faces, and with beseeching portraits of Jesus Christ.

Who, I thought, does Shakespeare resemble? Recently, I came across an intriguing online facial recognition tool, from My Heritage, that scans pictures of faces and compares them to other famous faces. I uploaded the new portrait, and was intrigued by the results (see a collage of results, above, from the same site). Six out of the nine matches were women. Two of the nine had Oriental features. But most intriguing of all was that Shakespeare's closed matches were Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. Now, I can understand Shakespeare looking like Garbo - the same aquiline features, and enigmatic air - but Bette Davis?

A closer look revealed why this software had thrown up the match: Shakespeare had the same deep-set eyes as Bette and - even more striking - the same smooth, arched eyelids, untouched by any overhanging baggy bits.

If you'd like to see who you resemble, take a look at this remarkable tool. I ran a picture of my husband through it four times, and was astonished to find that two out of four times it came up with the same matches. (Anthony Hopkins and Harvey Keitel, which was interesting for me, because those are two actors whose faces get me all hot and sweaty). It also came up with some ridiculous and frankly insulting matches, but to spare feelings, I won't go into that now.

You'll get the best results if you choose a good-quality, face-forward photograph shot in a flat light with no shadows, spectacles or other distracting features.

Try it, and then post a comment here telling me who you look like.

I posted two photos of myself, and the software couldn't find a single match for my face. I don't know whether to be elated, or frightened half to death. Could I be a Zillon from the planet Tharg?

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Muriel said...

What a WONDERFUL post! You are, Juno, simply unique - and if that makes you from another planet, I want to visit it.

Muriel said...

So - my first pic got no matches. My second got a 74% match with Emma Watson (the nerdy girl from Harry Potter and why am I not suprised?), and minor matches with Holly Hunter, Enya and (yes please) Isabelle Adjani. But the third was most interesting; a 70% match with Uma Thurman (who my friend Mandy has told me I look like) and... a 68% match with BRAD PITT!! I have been compared in the past to Merryl Streep, Andie McDowell and Judy Davis, none of which has thrilled me. But, hey, Brad I can live with.

Juno said...

Oh, Mur, thank you for saying I am just unique. Nice spin on the fact that my face is as blank as the top of a mushroom.

But as for your matches... yes, I can see some of them. Not Emma Watson (hu?), but certainly Holly Hunter and Andie McDowell.