University of Dundee

CAHID and DJCAD experts reconstruct face of Richard III 528 years after his death

01 Feb 2013

The Richard III Society will today unveil the world’s only facial reconstruction of the human remains found at the Greyfriars in Leicester, yesterday confirmed as belonging to Richard III. 

The reconstruction project, led by Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification at the University of Dundee, was commissioned and funded by the Richard III Society.

  • Facial reconstruction reveals face of long dead King
  • A more pleasant, younger and fuller appearance than period portraits reveal
  • A face far removed from the image of the  cold-blooded villain of Shakespeare’s play
  • Opportunity to look into the eyes of one of English history’s most controversial and unfairly maligned kings

The calm and apparently thoughtful face is in stark contrast to the many portrayals of Richard III, showing contorted facial and bodily features, that were created for political reasons following his death.

Examination of the remains have shown that Richard had no kyphosis or withered arm, despite this being a feature commonly attributed to him and his face is shown to be warm, young, earnest and rather serious.

“It was a great privilege for us all in the Dundee team to work on this important investigation,” said Professor Wilkinson. “It has been enormously exciting to rebuild and visualise the face that could be Richard III, and 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 3D replication process known as stereolithography. The final head was painted and textured with glass eyes and a wig, using the portraits as reference, to create a realistic and regal appearance.”

Her colleague Janice Aitken, a lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD), part of the University, painted the 3D replica of the head that Professor Wilkinson created.

“My part in the process was purely interpretive rather than scientific,” she said. “Guided by Professor Wilkinson's expertise, I drew on my experience in portrait painting, using a combination of historical and contemporary references to create a finished surface texture. The reaction of the team when the model was unveiled made all the hard work worthwhile.”

Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society expressed his delight at the work that the Dundee team carried out, saying, “It’s an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile. When I first saw it, I thought there is enough of the portraits about it for it to be King Richard but not enough to suggest they have been copied.

“I think people will like it. He’s a man who lived.  Indeed, when I looked him in the eye, ‘Good King Richard’ seemed alive and about to speak. At last, it seems, we have the true image of Richard III - is this the face that launched a thousand myths?”

The facial reconstruction will eventually be loaned to Leicester City Council to be displayed in their planned visitors centre adjacent to the Greyfriars site. The centre will be dedicated to telling the story of King Richard III’s life and death. The excavation, analysis and reconstruction was driven by Phillipa Langley, the originator of the ‘Looking for Richard’ project.

“Seeing a true likeness of England's last Plantagenet and warrior king meant, for  me, finally coming face-to-face with the man I'd invested four years searching for,” she said.

“The experience was breathtaking -- one of the most overwhelming moments of my life. I wasn't alone in finding this an approachable, kindly face, almost inviting conversation.

“Perhaps I may be forgiven for adding a personal impression of loyalty and steadfastness, someone seemingly capable of deep thought. An entirely new interpretation, but to me, instantly recognisable for who he was. You must make up your own mind, but I can only say I was transfixed.”