CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like

Shannon Quinn - November 5, 2020

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
The 3D image of the man who was found looks identical to Nicolaus copernicus. Credit: Nature Weekly Journal

15. The Remains of Nicolaus Copernicus Were Found by Accident

In 2004, Polish archeologists uncovered remains in a church, but there was no grave marker. They weren’t sure who the skeleton belonged to, so they took it to forensic scientists in Warsaw. Once the reconstructed his face, they saw an old man with a broken nose and a scar above his brow. The features, along with the age of the skeleton, point to the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. When you put his portrait side-by-side with the 3D image, it truly is uncanny how similar the two are. Without this new technology, modern-day scientists would have never known who he was. Because of his famous accomplishments, the church had taken special care to bury him where he was found. Without this technology, his remains may have never been identified.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Meritamun the mummy. Credit: University of Melbourne

14. Australian Researchers Brough a Mummy, Meritamun, Back to Life

Anthropologists from the University of Melbourne discovered a detached skull that once belonged to an Egyptian mummy from 300 BC. It had been brought to Australia in the early 1900s by a professor who wanted to show the piece to the students at his college. Now that they have the technology, the team reconstructed the skull to see who this person was. They gave the woman the name “Meritamun“. After doing a CT scan of the skull, they were able to use a 3D printer to replicate the skull itself. Next, they molded her muscles, skin, and eventually hair and other features. While the recreation of Meritamun wasn’t solving a mystery, it’s still a breakthrough in technology to be able to see exactly what someone looked like, even after their death.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Scientists recreated what Bach likely looked like, even including his double chin. Credit: Caroline Wilkinson

13. Johann Sebastian Bach Finally Reveals His Secrets

The musical composer Johann Sebastian Bach is a bit of a mystery because he was a fiercely private person. He wrote very few letters, and only posed for one portrait during his lifetime. However, the Bach Museum in Eisenach, Germany, just so happened to have his skull. An anthropologist from Scotland named Caroline Wilkinson borrowed the skull so that she could make a scan and 3D print of his skull. After putting the information into a computer program, she was able to make a depiction of what he would have looked like. Even though a skull can give you the basic shape of someone’s features, it can’t tell you about wrinkles or fat. So Wilkinson had to dig through historic documents to add on those features. The result actually does look strikingly similar to his portrait.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
The 3D image of this young boy looks nearly identical to his portrait. Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

12. The Mummy of an Egyptian Toddler

During the 1st Century AD, a toddler who passed away was mummified and buried in Egypt. An artist drew a portrait of him while he was alive, which is in keeping with Egyptian tradition. This was included in the burial, and attached to the mummy itself. As tragic as this story is, it still gives us a valuable insight into a part of ancient Egypt that we don’t often hear about. In an article from Smithsonian Magazine, they explained that sometimes, the portraits included on mummies don’t always match up. For example, an elderly man was found with a portrait of what he looked like in the prime of his youth when he was 20 years old. However, this 3D face was made by reconstructing his skull, without using the painting as a reference at all. The end result was strikingly similar.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Mat Collishaw shows us what Queen Elizabeth would have looked like under the makeup. Credit: The BBC

11. Queen Elizabeth I Was Unmasked at a Recent Art Exhibit

The image of England’s Queen Elizabeth I is so iconic, pretty much everyone can recognize her. According to records, she wore a lot of white makeup made of vinegar and led to hide pockmarks on her skin. In all of her portraits, her skin looks flawless, because she wanted the world to believe that she was truly young, beautiful, and healthy enough to continue her rule. This is why many of her portraits look the same, even years apart. An artist named Mat Collishaw used digital scanning of her effigy death mask to get the general shape of her face. Then, they measured the distance of her eyes, lips, and nose in all of the portraits. Lastly, they used 3D printing to perfectly create a face. This face was placed on top of a robotic automaton so that it actually blinks like a real person. Creepy? Yes. But it’s accurate.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
The second interpretation of Ava. Credit: BBC

10. Ava’s Features Were Debated Because of Modern Day White Washing

In 1987, the bones of a woman who died 4,250 years ago were discovered at Achavanich in Caithness, United Kingdom. The body was given the nickname “Ava” since they had no way of knowing her true identity. According to the DNA, she was descended from mainland Europeans who migrated to England only a few generations before her birth. When researchers first did a 3D recreation of her, they gave her red hair and blue eyes. But, after doing more genetic research through the Natural History Museum in London and Harvard Medical School, it was discovered that she would have actually had darker hair and eyes. Just like The Cheddar Man, early Europeans didn’t look like how we imagine British people today. Researchers are excited by the evidence they’ve gathered from Ava, because it means that human beings were migrating from mainland Europe much earlier than originally thought.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Nero, Roman emperor. Credit: Césares de Roma

9. Emperor Nero Was The Emperor Accused of Being the Antichrist

The Fifth emperor of Rome was Nero, and he was known for being a tyrant. He did whatever he pleased without worrying about the consequences. In his spare time, he loved to play music, perform, and recite poetry. Some historians blame him for starting the Great Fire of Rome in July of 64 AD just so he could have an excuse to rebuild the city from scratch. In the end, he blamed Christians for starting the fire, and this earned him the nickname of “The Antichrist.” This realistic model we see above is yet another sculpture created by an artist named Salva Ruano from his series “Cesares de Roma“. The artist gave him a wicked expression where you can’t quite tell what he’s about to do next.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
This is the face of Queen Nefertiti. Credit: University of Bristol

8. Queen Nefertiti Was One of the Most Beautiful Egyptian Queens

Queen Nefertiti’s name literally means “the beauty has come”, a powerful queen of ancient egypt. Because of this, many busts and statues were made in her likeness. So to see what she actually looked like is truly fascinating. A facial reconstruction specialist named M.A. Ludwig took it upon themselves to recreate a 3D model of Nefertiti on Photoshop based on his bust. This is an artist’s interpretation, so there is still a good chance that she may look different if a proper recreation was made using her skull. However, researchers are discovering from other examples like King Tut and the Egyptian toddler that Egyptian’s artistic interpretations are usually pretty accurate to real life. Personally, I think the bust of Nefertiti is far more beautiful than the 3D model, but that’s my personal opinion.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Maximilien Robespierre. Credit: Bored Panda

7. Maximilien De Robespierre’s Recreation Shows the Naked Truth

Maximilien de Robespierre was a French politician who is known for his part in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. When he was executed in 1794, they took a death mask from his decapitated head to capture his features. Because of this, it was much easier for future scientists to recreate his features. According to records, the 36-year-old suffered from a lot of health problems. He had scars all over his face from smallpox, daily nosebleeds, and yellowed eyes and skin from jaundice. Every day, he had a permanent twitching of his eyes and mouth. This is an example of how a portrait artist can make someone look more attractive and healthy-looking than they actually were in reality.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
This is the true face of Mary, Queen of Scots. Credit: The University of Dundee

6. Mary Queen of Scots Looks Almost Too Much Like Her Portraits

Mary Queen of Scots is one of the most well-known figures in history. But in reality, she looked very different than what you may imagine from movies and TV. A team of researchers at the University of Dundee were able to take a scan and come up with this 3D recreation. She has a very large nose, and a strong, square chin. In a lot of ways, she looks exactly like her portrait. But some historians find this model a bit off-putting because her features are very different than what we see in most modern people. Even the 3D model of her larger-than-life features looks a bit like a fake avatar created for a video game. Professor Wilkinson said, “She doesn’t sound attractive, but the strong features meant she had a very striking appearance.”

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
An artist recreated what Chopin would have looked like while he was alive. Credit: Classic FM

5. An Artist Recreates The Real Face of Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin was a famous music composer and pianist. Chopin’s music is incredibly popular even to this day, and even untrained listeners may recognize some of his music. To be fair, there is at least one photograph that exists of Frédéric Chopin when he was older. So his appearance wasn’t a complete mystery. However, his image when he was a young man is always in the form of a painting. Because of his immense fame, a mold was taken of his face and hands when he died. An Iranian visual artist named Hadi Karimi took the existing photograph and portraits of Chopin. With much time and effort, he recreated what Chopin would have looked like. The results are beautiful because his eyes capture the spirit of his music.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Is this the face of a witch, or a grandmother wrongly accused? Credit: Ancient Origins

4. Lilias Adie, A Scottish Woman Who Was Found Guilty In Court For Being a Witch

Older women were accused of being witches for centuries, and Lilias Adie was no exception. She was an elderly woman living in Scotland when she went on trial for witchcraft. As a result, people of her village tortured her, which forced her to confess to being in love with the devil. When she was found guilty, she committed suicide in 1704 before they had the chance to burn her at the stake. After her death, she was buried on the beach. Villagers placed a giant stone slab on top of her grave, because they believed that she might use her magic to rise from the dead. Because of this stone slab, her skeleton was well preserved enough for forensic scientists from Dundee University to make a 3D model of what she would have looked like when she was alive.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
This is what Jesus most likely looked like. Credit: Bas Uterwijk

3. Jesus Christ Probably Didn’t Look Like Those Paintings in Church

In many Christian churches, images of Jesus have European features like blue eyes and brown hair. Because of this, many Christians assume that he must have been white. However, scientific evidence has proven that Jesus should have been biologically similar to Iraqi Jews. Without his remains, it would be impossible to get a completely accurate depiction. Even so, there are several different 3D interpretations out there as to what Jesus may have looked like. I went with the depiction by the Dutch artist Bas Uterwijk, because it seems to be as close to reality as I can find. He took images of Jesus from existing classic paintings and created a face based on those features. Only this time, instead of making him white, he gave him a more racially accurate depiction.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
If the Statue of Liberty was a real person. Credit: Bas Uterwijk

2. The Woman in The Statue of Liberty May Not Be French, After All

A Dutch artist named Bas Uterwijk created this digital portrait to in order to show what The Statue of Liberty would have looked like, if she was a real French woman. But is this completely accurate? And did she really exist? The artist, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, was known for being fascinated with Egyptian architecture. He was originally going to create a statue that was nearly identical to the Statue of Liberty for the opening of the Egyptian Suez Canal. In his original plans, the woman was supposed to be an Arab wearing peasant robe, holding a torch over her head. Since the concept was nearly identical, historians believe that Bartholdi took his existing project and gave it to the United States. Many of the other figures on this list have had their race changed multiple times, and the Statue of Liberty may be no different.

CGI Technology Reveals What These Historic Figures Looked Like
Philip the Arab was Roman emperor from 244 to 249. Credit: Dan Voshart

1. Philip the Arab’s Facial Reconstruction Captures His Emotions

From 244 to 249, Philip the Arab served as the Roman emperor. He was a huge figure in the Roman empire, because he negotiated peace with the Persian Sassanid Empire. He was betrayed during the Battle of Verona, and killed in a rebellion. Because of this, he only reigned for 5 years, but he’s remembered for his accomplishments in that short time. This facial recreation is yet another artistic interpretation by artist Dan Voshart. His face looks identical to his bust, except that his expression is very sad, showing the sense of betrayal in his eyes. Because of this artwork, we can really get a sense of what Philip must have gone through.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Visit Richard III’s Gravesite With This Bone Chilling 3D Model. Smithsonian Magazine. Jason Daley. 2016

These facial reconstructions reveal 40,000 years of English ancestry. National Geographic. Kristen Romey. 2019

A Starving Time Tragedy. Historic Jamestown. 2013

Putting a Face on the First President. Jeffrey H. Schwartz. University of Pittsburgh.

Dan Vosh Art. Twitter. 2020

Stonehenge Man: Not Just a Pretty Face. Sandrine Ceurstemont. New Scientist. 2014.

Cheddar Man: Mesolithic Britain’s blue-eyed boy. The National History Museum. Kerry Lotzof

Scientists reconstruct Ötzi the Iceman’s frantic final climb. Megan Gannon. National Geographic. 2019.

And More…

Spanish Artist Recreates Three Of The Most Famous Roman Emperors Through His Realistic Sculptures. Demilked. 2018

Anne Boleyn’s Appearance: Does it Really Matter? The Tudor Society. Conor Byrne.

Facial Reconstruction of 6 Ancient Egyptians You Should Know About. Dattatreya Mandal. Realm of History. 2019

Copernicus unearthed? Nature Magazine. 2005

Researchers Have Just Reconstructed a 2,300-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy’s Face. Josh Hrala. Science Alert. 2016

Experts Digitally Reconstruct Bach’s Face. DW.

The Verge – How A Designer Used AI And Photoshop To Bring Ancient Roman Emperors Back To Life

Smithsonian Magazine – What We Can Learn From Ötzi the Iceman’s Hunting Pack

BBC News – Father Christmas: Saint Nicholas’ Face Revealed

The Times – Meet Lilias, The 3D ‘Witch’ With A Kind Face

University Of South Carolina – The Long History Of How Jesus Came To Resemble A White European

And More…

Is This The Real Face of the Virgin Queen? Dan John. BBC. 2018

Giving life to a woman found in a 4,250-year-old grave in Caithness. Steven McKenzie. BBC. 2018

The 3D reconstruction of Robespierre’s face doesn’t really present a flattering picture. Realm of History. 2016.

Mary, Queen of Scots modelled in 3D. BBC. 2013

Chopin’s face is brought to life in artist’s incredible 3D portraits. Maddy Shaw Roberts. Classic FM. 2020.

Face of Notorious Witch Digitally Reconstructed 300 Years After Her Death. Ancient Origins. Theodoros Karasavvas. 2017.

Artist Recreates How Iconic Figures From History Would Really Look in Real Life. My Modern Met. Margherita Cole. 2020.

The Statue of Liberty was modeled after an Arab woman. Sarah Birnbaum. USA Today. 2017.