She was one of the most enigmatic women in British history, yet little is known about the face of Anne Boleyn because contemporary portraits were thought to be destroyed after she was executed at the Tower of London in 1536.
Now scientists believe they have identified a portrait of Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, using facial recognition software that has compared the only confirmed image of Anne on a medal in the British Museum with a painting known as the Nidd Hall portrait.
Art historians have debated whether the Nidd Hall portrait is Boleyn or her successor, Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife.
However, a study has matched the portrait with the only known contemporary image of Anne on “The Moost Happi” medal, which was stamped in 1534 to commemorate the expected birth of her son. Amit Roy‑Chowdhury of the University of California at Riverside said that a comparison of the faces in a range of portraits thought to represent Anne has identified only one, the Nidd Hall portrait, as being the same as the face printed on the Moost Happi medal.
The facial recognition software – developed from systems used to identify people in CCTV – compared a range of physical proportions, such as the width of the mouth and distance between the eyes, to assess the extent of a match between two portraits.
A similar attempt to confirm the authenticity of portraits of William Shakespeare proved unsuccessful, the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in California, was told.