Facial Recognition Technology Solves the de Brecy Tondo Mystery: Is it a Lost Raphael Masterpiece?

Art collectors and historians have debated the origins of a circular painting known as the de Brecy Tondo for decades now. Some argue that it is just very similar to Raphael’s Sistine Madonna piece, while others believe it to be an authentic Raphael piece. Artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technologies have helped researchers from the University of Nottingham and the University of Bradford in the UK make a breakthrough as their analysis concludes that the de Brecy Tondo is “highly likely to be a Raphael masterpiece”.

The Enigmatic de Brecy Tondo

The de Brecy Tondo, a circular painting depicting the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, has captivated the art world for decades. When art collector George Lester Winward acquired the painting in 1981, he believed he had stumbled upon a genuine Raphael and experts at the time dismissed it as a Victorian copy of the Sistine Madonna. Still intact, Winward established the de Brecy Trust before his death, allowing researchers to continue studying the painting.

The attribution of the de Brecy Tondo to Raphael has been a matter of contention among art historians for decades. Previous examinations of the painting’s pigments and historical research had suggested Raphael’s authorship, but many experts remained skeptical. The recent study conducted with AI and facial recognition technology has once again brought the attribution into question.

The Role of AI in Art Authentication

To determine the likelihood of the de Brecy Tondo’s attribution to Raphael, researchers turned to AI and facial recognition technology. They employed a deep neural network, trained on thousands of artworks, to analyse various aspects of the faces in the Tondo and the Sistine Madonna. The AI system examined proportions, colours, textures, and shading, among other factors, to identify similarities and differences between the two paintings.

The facial recognition analysis conducted by Hassan Ugail, an expert in visual computing, revealed intriguing results. The faces of the Madonna in both paintings were found to be 97% similar, while the faces of the child Jesus had an 86% similarity. These high correspondences led Ugail to conclude that both paintings were likely created by the same artist, with a high probability of that artist being Raphael.

Despite the promising results of the AI analysis, not all art historians are convinced of the de Brecy Tondo’s attribution to Raphael. Some argue that the painting is simply a later copy after Raphael rather than an original work by the master himself. They point to the exact resemblance between the Tondo and the Sistine Madonna, suggesting that it lacks the creative variation typical of Raphael’s works.

The Culture of Copying in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was a time of artistic imitation and copying, with artists often replicating the works of their contemporaries. Raphael’s paintings, including the Sistine Madonna, were frequently copied, even during his lifetime. Some experts argue that the de Brecy Tondo could be one such copy, making use of pigments and techniques characteristic of the 16th century to mimic Raphael’s style.

The differing opinions do not change the fact that the de Brecy Tondo remains an intriguing piece of art, regardless. Timothy Benoy, honorary secretary of the trust that now owns the painting, is confident in Raphael’s authorship. He highlights the Tondo’s canvas medium, which was unusual for Raphael at the time, suggesting that it could have been an opportunity for the artist to experiment with a new material.

The mystery surrounding the de Brecy Tondo continues to fascinate art enthusiasts and scholars around the world as it has been for a while. While the recent AI analysis suggests a strong possibility of the artist being Raphael, the debate is far from settled.