Monday, 16 February 2015

The most unhappy science of face recognition

There were scenes of disgraceful levity at DMossEsq Towers this afternoon when the entire staff was reduced for an hour to helpless fits of infantile giggles. Only the appearance of the scowling proprietor himself, surging forth from his inner sanctum, furious, restored order.

Readers should know that this is a rare event, the news room normally being the very epitome of decorum. Stranger still is the occasion of this hysteria – an article in the Guardian newspaper. Po-faced and scandalised by every fact of life, you don't readily associate that organ with mirth.

There was obviously something in the air today.

The Nidd Hall portrait of Anne Boleyn. Putatively.
What did Anne Boleyn look like?

That was the question the Guardian posed themselves.

And the answer is simple.

She looked like the so-called "Nidd Hall" portrait alongside, clearly labelled "Anne Boleyn, spouse, Henry VIII".

Except that the answer isn't simple.

The Nidd Hall portrait wasn't painted until the late 16th century whereras Anne had parted company with her head in 1536.

Most contemporary pictures of her were destroyed on her death. All of them, in fact. Except for one – a likeness of her on a battered lead disc known as the "Moost Happi" medal.

The question is, does the woman depicted on the medal look like the late 16th century portrait?

And the answer, according to the Guardian, was to get an academic software engineer to use a face recognition system to determine yes or no whether they were pictures of the same woman:
Researchers in California used state-of-the-art face recognition to compare the face on the Moost Happi medal with a number of paintings and found a close match with the privately owned Nidd Hall portrait, held at the Bradford Art Galleries and Museums.