World-first exhibition of mystery painting scientists believe is a Raphael

Monday, 17 July 2023

A mystery painting found to be “undoubtedly” by Raphael will go on public display for the first time.

The de Brécy Tondo has been the subject of research and debate for more than 40 years thanks to its resemblance to Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. Recent analysis using artificial intelligence-assisted computer-based facial recognition showed the faces in the paintings are identical to those in Raphael’s famous altarpiece.

Following his initial analysis, Professor Hassan Ugail, Director of the Centre of Visual Computing at the University of Bradford, has since developed a new AI model to recognise paintings by Old Masters. This looks at the painting as a whole, not just the faces.

Professor Ugail’s AI analysis adds further weight to previous analysis by Professor Christopher Brooke, University of Nottingham, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and historian of ecclesiastical art and architecture, and Professor Howell Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Molecular Spectroscopy at the University of Bradford, who found the pigments in the Tondo placed it firmly in the Renaissance period.

The Tondo will be on display at Bradford Council's Cartwright Hall Art Gallery for two months from Tuesday, July 25th.

Professor Ugail said: "My AI models look far deeper into a picture than the human eye, comparing detail such as the brush strokes and pigments.

"Testing the Tondo using this new AI model has shown startling results, confirming it is most likely by Raphael.

"Together with my previous work using facial recognition and combined with previous research by my fellow academics, we have concluded the Tondo and the Sistine Madonna are undoubtedly by the same artist.

"Currently, the authenticity of a painting is confirmed by eye, by experts. I believe this technology, using science to analyse art, could be used alongside human experts, leading to easier authentication and greater transparency."

Timothy Benoy, Honorary Secretary of the de Brécy Trust, said: "It is only fitting that the Tondo’s first public display is in Bradford, where cutting edge technologies at the University have been used to determine its attribution.

"We believe the work on the Tondo very forcibly illustrates the increasing value of scientific evidence in the attribution of a painting."

Councillor Sarah Ferriby, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Healthy People and Places, said: "We are delighted to be the first place in the world to have this amazing art work on public display. It is fitting that Bradford has been chosen for this honour, especially in the run up to the district being UK City of Culture in 2025. I hope as many people as possible take this opportunity to visit Cartwright Hall to view this and the many other great works of art we have display including work by Bradford artist David Hockney."

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