State-of-the-Art Reconstructions Reveal What Famous Historical Figures Really Looked Like
Although you may have vague ideas of what some of the most famous figures in history looked like, you might be surprised at their real appearances if you could see them in person. Using genealogy and historical records, researchers have been able to reconstruct the real-life appearances of some of history's most famous people in stunning detail.
Take a look at these incredibly detailed reproductions of historical figures to see how close they come to the illusion presented in paintings and drawings throughout history.
King Tut: The Face We All Know
Although King Tutankhamun, or "King Tut," is one of the most recognized pharaohs in the world today, that wasn't always the case. He ruled over ancient Egypt for a short decade from 1334 to 1324 B.C. After he died, his name more or less faded into obscurity. In 1922, however, an archaeologist named Howard Carter gave King Tut a second shot at stardom.
What King Tut Actually Looked Like
Researchers took into account more than 2,000 digital and CT scans as well as genetic analysis when building a realistic image of King Tut's appearance. What emerged was a picture of a frail boy with a large overbite who died at just 19 years old.
Nero: History's Most Notorious Roman Emperor
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, usually simply referred to as Nero, was the ruler of Rome from 54 to 68 A.D. Although his legacy still lives on today, few things about it are flattering. Nero considered himself a world-class artist, but he's mostly remembered for being a first-class sociopath who murdered countless people.
Nero: The Face of an Ancient Madman
While the disturbing neck beard makes him look questionable enough, everything about this lifelike rendering of Nero is just downright creepy. The artist who brought Nero to life took into account several classic depictions of the emperor, from coins created in his own time to a 17th century bust from the Musei Capitolini in Rome.
The Famous Sculpture of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt
Queen Nefertiti made a name for herself in both her own time and the present by being one of the few women who may have ruled ancient Egypt independently. She ruled alongside her pharaoh husband from 1353 to 1336 B.C., but a wide array of evidence also suggests she continued to rule as queen after he passed away.
Nefertiti: The Beauty Beneath the Surface
It's widely believed that the limestone "statue within the statue" was a more realistic portrait of the queen that was never meant to be discovered. Researchers were able to use CT scanned images of the hidden statue to reconstruct what Nefertiti quite possibly looked like.
Robert the Bruce as Depicted by History
Robert the Bruce was a Scottish King who ruled from 1306 to 1329 A.D. Ironically, he took the throne at a time when King Edward I still considered Scotland part of English territory. Scotland obviously disagreed and engaged in a war with England to gain independence.
A Skull Cast Unlocks Robert the Bruce's Appearance
In order to determine what the Scottish ruler looked like, historians from the University of Glasgow and face lab specialists from the University of Liverpool worked together to undertake a two-year project. Their reconstruction of the king's face was largely based on a cast made from Robert's skull.
Cleopatra: What We Think She Looks Like
When you picture Cleopatra, you probably think of a strikingly beautiful Egyptian queen. You may even imagine her as looking similar to Elizabeth Taylor's portrayal in the 1963 film Cleopatra — but you would be wrong on both counts.
Cleopatra: Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Sally-Ann Ashton, an Egyptologist from Cambridge, spent more than a year attempting to piece together what the famous Egyptian queen really looked like. For clues, she looked to Cleopatra's genealogy, her depiction in ancient temple decorations and her portrayal on coins from her own time. Ashton also used a marble bust from 40 to 30 B.C., which many scholars consider to be the most accurate ancient depiction of the queen.
Julius Caesar as Depicted by Hollywood
Julius Caesar may have had one of the most epic careers in the history of war, and his death is still considered a tragedy to this day. After his successful military exploits led to growing political prominence, he formed an alliance called the First Triumvirate with two other famed Roman conquerors in 60 BC.
The Actual Julius Caesar: Talk About Having a Big Head
Although he once won the heart of Cleopatra and became one of the most legendary leaders in Roman history, Caesar’s looks may not have been his strong point. During the civil war with Pompey, a bust was created that depicted the famous conqueror's face and upper body.
Queen Elizabeth I in the Famous Armada Portrait
When it comes to English royalty, Queen Elizabeth I was definitely one of the greats. She took the throne in 1559 after the death of her sister and enjoyed a successful reign until her death in 1603. During her time in power, she settled highly volatile political-religious rifts of the time, defeated the Spanish Armada and promoted a flourishing arts culture that produced greats like William Shakespeare.
Meet Animatronic Elizabeth
Artist Mat Collishaw was able to use a portrait at the Queen's House in London, along with research, scans and 3-D printing, to recreate the face of Elizabeth I. No, as it turned out she didn't look exactly like Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. You can check out Collishaw's reproduction for yourself at the Queen's House in Greenwich, London.
William Shakespeare: How Most People Picture the Bard
Today, William Shakespeare is still considered one of the most influential playwrights who ever lived. During his life (1564-1616), he crafted at least 38 different plays and a number of sonnets that are largely credited for revolutionizing the English language.
Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Mask
A small number of original drawings and paintings of Shakespeare still exist today, but researchers had access to something far more helpful. Back in Shakespeare's day, a clay mold was sometimes used to create a death mask of a person's face to show what they looked like when they died.
President George Washington: America's Most Famous Face
Considering that his portrait is on every American dollar bill in circulation, George Washington's face may be one of the most instantly recognizable faces in the United States. As the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, he played an important role in helping America defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.
A Lifelike Reconstruction of America's First President
Researchers from New Jersey Medical School did an incredible job of bringing Washington’s features to life. Everyone is already familiar with his profile and famous white wig, but this high-tech facial reconstruction makes Washington's famous blue eyes look like something out of a photograph.
Mary, Queen of Scots from Paintings in Her Own Time
Mary, Queen of Scots, or Mary Stuart, was the queen of (you guessed it) Scotland from 1542 to 1567. Unfortunately, she didn't get much training for the role due to the fact that she inherited the throne just six days after she was born.
A Realistic Representation of Mary, Queen of Scots
Although you might think she would have learned her lesson about the dangers of plotting against Elizabeth, that might not have been the case. The truth is subject to debate, but Elizabeth believed Mary continued to plot against her and had her beheaded after years of imprisonment.
Richard III as He Is Commonly Portrayed on Stage
Although he only ruled England for two years (1483-1485), Richard III's name lives on in infamy. One of the reasons he's still so recognizable is because Shakespeare wrote one of his most famous plays about him. If you've ever read or seen the play, then you may picture him as a horribly deformed hunchback with withered limbs and a debilitating limp.
Richard III's Actual Appearance
Researchers discovered that Shakespeare had gone a tad overboard in his depiction of Richard III, who wasn't actually a hunchback at all. As it turned out, he just suffered from scoliosis, which may have made one of his shoulders a little higher than the other.
Saint Anthony as Shown in Stained Glass Everywhere
If you know anybody who is Catholic, then the odds are good that you may someday hear them ask Saint Anthony for a little help in locating their lost car keys. Among the favorite saints of the Catholic church, Anthony is the patron saint of lost things and was declared the "Doctor of the Church" by Pope Pius XII in 1946.
Saint Anthony as Recreated by Researchers
In 2013, a group of researchers from The University of St. Anthony of Padua’s Anthropology Museum teamed up with international forensic experts to recreate the famous saint's appearance. Using a 3-D digital copy of Anthony's skull along with research from his era, the team was able to reproduce the face of a man you instinctively want to hug.
King Henry IV as Shown in Art
King Henry IV of France is often referred to as "Good King Henry" due to his insistence on religious tolerance at a time when it definitely wasn't popular. Raised as a Protestant, Henry became the King of Navarre in 1572 after his mother passed away. Soon after, he was married to Margaret of Valois, the daughter of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici.
The Good King's Real Face
In 1589, King Henry's marriage led to his inheritance of the French throne, and he ultimately converted to Catholicism. Despite his conversion, he issued what was known as the Edict of Nantes, which gave Protestants their fair share of rights in the Catholic nation. His views weren't popular with everyone, and after surviving 12 assassination attempts, he was finally killed by the 13th.
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Face of Classical Music
Even if you're not a huge fan of classical music, it's almost impossible to make it through life without hearing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, the German composer is still regarded today as one of the greatest composers in recorded history.
What Bach Looked Like in Real Life
Dr. Caroline Wilkinson from the University of Dundee, who was also responsible for the reconstruction of Shakespeare's face, decided to work her magic on Bach as well. This proved a bit tricky since the composer was buried in an unmarked grave in 1750.
Maximilien Robespierre: Face of the French Revolution
Maximilien Robespierre was an influential figure during the French Revolution. Obsessed with his vision of an ideal republic — and eager to realize that dream regardless the cost — Robespierre eventually fell during what is fondly dubbed the “Reign of Terror.”
Maximilien Robespierre: What He Actually Looked Like
However, the French Revolution’s “Reign of Terror” wasn’t the only one. What we mean is, this rendering of Robespierre is… well, not super flattering, to say the least. All those pock marks and that overly curled hair.
Dante Alighieri: The Supposed Look of a Stern Poet
Born around 1265 in Florence, Dante Alighieri was the Shakespeare of his time. Not just because he was known by a single name — simply “Dante” — but because his epic poem, the Divine Comedy, is known as the greatest Italian literary work.
Dante Alighieri: CGI's Take on the Poet
According to historians, Dante died at the fairly young age (by today’s standards) of 56, but this rendering of him certainly adds a few years onto the poet’s life. Maybe it’s just that stern expression? Despite the name of his work, life in the Middle Ages was no laughing matter.
Ramses II: Depictions That Once Ruled
Ramses II is perhaps best-known by his nickname “Ramses the Great.” What was so great about this pharaoh from Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty? For starters, he ruled an estimated 66 years. (Which is more than some of the other "Greats" of history can say...)
Ramses II: A CGI Depiction to Rule Them All
When Ramses II did pass away, his mummified body was entombed in the Valley of the Kings where it lay undisturbed from 1213 BCE until 1881 CE. Now, his well-preserved body is on view to visitors at the Egyptian Museum.
Nicolaus Copernicus: A Renaissance Man
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer who contributed quite a lot to the Scientific Revolution. Going against what had been believed for centuries, Copernicus figured out that the sun is the center of our universe.
Nicolaus Copernicus: A Computer-Age Man
For centuries, artists’ depictions of Copernicus weren’t all that flattering. Generally, these paintings and sketches reflected a gaunt, cartoonish man. Thanks to the wonders of CGI facial reconstruction, we now know Copernicus was just glum — not haggard.
The Lady of Cao: Unearthing an Important Mummy
At the archeological site El Brujo, north of Trujillo, a Peruvian archeological team stumbled upon the mummy in 2006. The team dubbed the Moche mummy the Lady of Cao and, since, she has been regarded as one of the most significant archeological finds in years.
The Lady of Cao: Bringing History Back to Life
Although she most likely died quite a long time ago — around 450 CE— the remains of the Lady of Cao have still told researchers a fairly detailed story. Due to the quality of the items found at her burial site, it is believed she was a high priestess or Moche ruler.
Jesus Christ: The Most Famous Face in Western Art
As the center of the Christian religion, Jesus Christ of Nazareth has been depicted in more Western art than any other figure in history. Ironically, much of the artwork in which Jesus has been featured depicts him as a long-haired Caucasian rather than the more realistic Jewish man he was.
An Average Man from Christ's Own Time and Region
In 2001, Neave worked on the skull of a Galilean man that was found in the region where Jesus lived. Although it's not meant to show exactly what Jesus looked like, it provides a good example of the appearance of an average man of his age, time, race and region.