King Richard faces subjects - 500 years later

By Steve Connor

A plastic facial model made from the recently discovered skull of England's King Richard III. Photo / AFP
A plastic facial model made from the recently discovered skull of England's King Richard III. Photo / AFP

The "face" of King Richard III has finally emerged more than 500 years after his death at the hands of Henry Tudor's army, thanks to advanced computer scanning, fancy wax modelling and a little bit of artistic licence.

The facial reconstruction is based on the skull found under a car park in Leicester and was put together by Caroline Wilkinson, professor of craniofacial identification at Dundee University, an expert in building up three-dimensional fleshy models based on bone structure.

All known portraits of Richard III were painted after his death and do not show him in a particularly flattering light, which suited the Tudor's dynasty's portrayal of him as one of the great villains of history.

Wilkinson made the model by first digitising a three-dimensional image of the complete skull and using the bone structure to estimate the thickness of the various layers of soft tissue which comprise the face.

"This depiction may allow us to see the King in a different light. His facial structure was produced using a scientific approach, based on anatomical assessment and interpretation, and a 3-D replication process known as stereolithography," Wilkinson said.

While the colour of eyes and hair may not be precise, the overall structure of the face should be fairly accurate. Many of Richard's rear molar teeth, for instance, were missing at the time of his death, giving him slightly hollow cheeks.

Many of the later portraits of Richard showed him with narrowed eyes and a rather mean face, with one shoulder higher than another, a physical deformity that at the time was linked with malevolence.

"All the surviving portraits of him - even the very later ones with humped backs and things which were obviously later additions - facially are quite similar [to each other] so it has always been assumed that they were based on a contemporary portrait painted in his lifetime or, possibly, several portraits painted in his lifetime," said historian and author John Ashdown-Hill.

"It's an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile," said Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, which commissioned the reconstruction and is trying to rehabilitate the King's reputation.

- Independent

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