Have you ever wondered what famous historical figures actually looked like today in real life? Sure, we have plenty of painted portraits to get a general idea. But one artist named Hidreley Diao went a step further and used Artificial Intelligence to create photo-realistic images. Now, we can see exactly what these people would look like if they were alive in modern times. When you’re done with this article, be sure to check out Hidreley Diao on Instagram.
Matau Tathonca a.k.a. “Bull Bear”
Our first historical figure is Matau Athonca, also known as Chief “Bull Bear“. The original painting was completed in the 1800’s by an artist named Alfred Jacob Miller, who spent his career drawing and painting Native Americans as well as fur trappers in the western United States. Bull Bear was the chief of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Years after meeting Bull Bear, Alfred Jacob Miller wrote notes in his sketchbook telling the story of how the chief was murdered in 1841. Today, the original portrait of Bull Bear hangs in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Hidreley Diao used this original painting as inspiration for his AI rendering of Bull Bear’s face. Today, Bull Bear would look like your average young Native American man.
There are several different artistic renderings of Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia and Persia. He established the largest empire in the ancient world. Alexander was known for being power-hungry and blood-thirsty, but he had a following of men who would literally die for him. Today, you can find dozens of portrait busts and sculptures of Alexander the Great. In all of these renderings, his features basically remain the same. He was born in Pella, Greece, where most men have darker features. And the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great features him with dark hair and eyes. However, there are historic documents that say that he had dark blonde hair, one blue eye, and one brown. So aside from the two blue eyes, it seems like the artist actually did give him historically accurate features.
We may never know the name of the young man in the portrait above, but his image came from one of the Fayum Mummy Portraits. There were portraits painted on wooden boards of people from the upper-class who died during the Roman rule of Egypt. These portraits were used to cover the faces of the bodies that had been mummified. When you see these portraits on the mummies, it’s almost as if they reveal a window into seeing the person behind the wrappings. However, the majority of these portraits have been removed from the mummies they were once attached to. Roughly 900 of these portraits have been recovered, and they’re highly valued among art collectors. Today, they can sell at auction for well over $100,000 each.
Anne of Cleves was the fourth wife of King Henry VIII of England. They were married to form a political alliance with Anne’s brother William, the Duke of Cleves. This portrait of Anne was painted by Holbein, Hans the Younger. In 1539, Holbien was sent to paint this portrait of Anne to show to King Henry, because he wanted an image of her since she was a candidate for marriage. Today, it’s as easy as checking out someone’s photo on Instagram. Holbein would have painted this portrait rather quickly on parchment so that it was easy to travel with. However, Henry was disappointed when he saw her in real life, and didn’t think the portrait was accurate at all. He called her a `fat Flanders mare’. Because of this, Holbein’s reputation was ruined, and he was never given such an important art assignment again.
Every history buff on the planet will already be familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814. Napoleon was famously short. Apparently, he was 5 feet and 6 inches tall. But some historic reports claim that he was as short as 4 feet 10 inches. Sources vary across the Internet, so we will never know how short he actually was. But at least we know what his face looked like. The vast majority of his busts and portraits look remarkably similar in terms of his facial features. This portrait is titled “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” by Jacques-Louis David in 1812.
This next historic figure wasn’t a real person, but rather a Greek and Roman god. Apollo is considered to be the god of archery, music, dance, truth, prophecy, healing, diseases, the sun, poetry, and more. He is the son of Zeus, and twin brother to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. In many of the stories about Apollo, he protected people from evil, as well as epidemics. (That would come in handy today, considering our current pandemic.) There are many different busts of Apollo out there. While most of their features look similar, no two are exactly alike. Obviously, this bust represents the face of the model, rather than the god himself.
This next AI rendering is a stunningly beautiful image of the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut. She is only the second confirmed female pharaoh, and ruled as the sixth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. During her reign, Hatsheput would have dressed as a king, and even wore a false beard. Hatsheput ruled for over 20 years, and she is considered to be one of the most successful Pharaohs in history. She was very interested in economic development, and restoring monuments throughout Egypt. However, this photo may not be totally accurate to how Hatsheput looked at the end of her life. According to archeologists, Hatsheput was obese, had diabetes, cavities, and was balding.
World-famous painter Vincent Van Gogh painted dozens of self-portraits, which give us a good idea of how he looked throughout the years of his life. There are actual photographs of Vincent van Gogh that exist, so we have real images to compare his paintings to. Compared to his real photos, this is not 100% accurate. But personally, I love how this AI rendering turned out. I feel like it captures the sadness in Vincent’s eyes. It’s interesting how he chose to give Vincent long hair, giving him an unkempt appearance. He would fit right in as a tortured artist today.
Mozart is famous for being a gifted musical prodigy that was composing and playing music as early as the age of 6. Throughout his lifetime, he composed hundreds of songs that are still listened to and replayed by musicians all over the world. Mozart is a very average-looking young man. Today, child stars are chosen for both their looks and their talent. (We’re looking at you, Justin Bieber.) Mozart died when he was just 35 years old. Historians argue over exactly how he died. Theories range anywhere from kidney disease to poisoning. But what we do know is that he died at such an early age, and yet still managed to accomplish becoming one of the greatest composers of all time.
This cutie is Madame de Pompadour, the chief mistress to King Louis XV. Her real name was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson. Many historians write that she was a schemer- seducing the king to gain influence and power over his reign. While it’s true that she had a lot of influence in his court, there was so much more to Madame de Pompadour than being a seductress. She was a patron of the arts, and even created her own works and performances during her lifetime. Throughout the years, her portraits change depending on her age. (Her last portrait even reveals the reality of being middle-aged with gray hair and a double chin.)
Julius Caesar was a military leader who became the dictator of the Roman Empire. Many of you may have had to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar play, so you’re probably already familiar with his story. He was assassinated by his rivals in 44 B.C.E. The modern-day depiction made with AI places Caesar in a business suit. If he lived today, he may have found political power in other ways, or maybe he would have settled for life as a CEO. He truly looks like he would fit into any boardroom around the world without issue.
Beloved painter and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, goes down in history as being a true “Renaissance Man”. Many of the paintings he left behind are still some of the most popular pieces of art today. There was a portrait done of Leonardo by an artist named Cristofano dell’Altissimo. And the image you see above is called “Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk”. Many historians believe that this was a self-portrait that would have been sketched when Leonardo was about 60 years old. However, it’s not universally accepted that this was actually him. But the AI depiction of this man looks very friendly, and fits with the image many imagine him to be.
Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome, and he was also the author of a book called Meditations about Stoic philosophy. He was one of the “Five Good Emperors” who kept peace and stability in Rome during the time of his reign. There are multiple statues of Marcus Aurelius both as a young man and adult. His face was also featured on Roman coins during the time of his reign. Considering that there are plenty of resources out there, this AI depiction seems like an accurate representation of what he would look like today.
This is a depiction of Saint Joseph, the legal father of Jesus Christ. Of course, if you believe in the stories from the Bible, the Virgin Mary was impregnated by God, rather than Joseph. But Jesus still needed a father figure to grow up with. Joseph is considered to be the patron saint of workers. Looking at the painting that was used for the AI rendering, it’s likely that Joseph did not actually have light skin and blue eyes. It’s more likely that he had darker features.
King Henry VIII of England ruled from 1509 until his death in 1547. He’s most known for breaking away from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his first wife. And he famously went on to get married a total of 6 times. He also kept many mistresses on the side. Unfortunately for these women, several of them were executed or died during childbirth. At one point in his life, Henry became so obese that he couldn’t walk anymore.
According to the Bible, Lucifer (also known as “The Devil”) was once a beautiful angel in Heaven. But his downfall was that he tried to be as powerful as God. As punishment, he was condemned to Hell. Because of this, popular culture typically shows Lucifer as being quite attractive, since he used to be an angel. The statue featured in this image is called “Le génie du mal “or “The Spirit of Evil”. It was created in 1848 by the Belgian artist Guillaume Geefs. Just one year earlier, in 1847, there was a famous painting called “The Fallen Angel” by Alexandre Cabanel. Both of these artistic depictions of Lucifer look similar, and they both even include him shedding a single tear.
During his lifetime, Sandro Botticelli was one of the most famous artists in Italy. He is known for painting scenes from mythology, as well as the Bible. Some of his most esteemed works were “The Birth of Venus”, “Primavera”, and “Mars and Venus”. He painted his self-portrait, so we have a good idea of what he looked like. Botticelli said that he dreaded the idea of marriage. Many historians speculate that he was secretly homosexual, and some speculate homo-erotic undertones in some of his paintings.
Sir Isaac Newton was a famous English physicist and mathematician. Some of his accomplishments were his three laws of motion, the basic principles of modern physics, and the formulation of the law of gravitation. He was also the original discoverer of the infinitesimal calculus. There are many portraits of Isaac Newton out there, so we have a pretty good idea of what he looked like during his lifetime. The depiction of what he might look like today seems to be very accurate.
As the first President of the United States, there are plenty of portraits of George Washington. He is also featured on dollars and coins. One detail that most artists have left out of his portraits is the fact that he would have had pockmarks all over his face leftover from the time he had Smallpox at 19 years old. Usually, the paintings depict him as having perfectly smooth skin. On the Mount Vernon website, they have information about all of his portraits, as well as notes from his diaries about his experience with each of the artists. The image of what George Washington would have looked like today makes him very distinguished, enjoying a glass of wine.
Born in the 1400’s, Joan of Arc was a young French peasant woman who heard voices in her head. She believed the voice was coming from God, who told her to help prince Charles of Valois defeat the English invaders and see him crowned as the new King of France. After chopping off her hair and dressing in men’s clothing, teenage Joan traveled to meet the prince. Somehow, she convinced him that the messages from God were true, and he allowed her to lead the army to victory. Later, though, the English captured her and burned her at the stake for witchcraft when she was just 19 years old. In 1920, the Catholic Church canonized her as a saint.
Playwright William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. There is a saying that goes, “After the Bible and Shakespeare, there are no original stories.” Born in 1564, Shakespeare spent his life in the theater as both a writer and actor. He published 38 plays, 2 narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of poems. If you live in an English-speaking country, chances are that you had to study one or more of his plays in school. Looking at this modern-day version of Shakespeare, he truly does look like he would fit into any crowd today.
This stunningly beautiful woman is Queen Nefertiti. Her name translates to “A Beautiful Woman Has Come,” which fits her gorgeous features. She ruled together with her husband King Akhenaton in the 14th century BCE. During their reign, they pushed for their people to praise the sun god Aten. It was considered to be one of the most wealthy times in all of ancient Egypt. There is a rumor that after her husband died, Queen Nefertiti continued on to rule as Pharaoh, but it has never been 100% confirmed. This famous bust of Queen Nefertiti that you see above now exists in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.
Born in 1606, artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is famous around the world for his paintings. He worked as an artist all his life, and there are 300 known paintings attributed to him. His life story is rather tragic. He happily married in his 20’s, but they had multiple children die in infancy. Then, his wife died shortly after giving birth to a child that actually lived. He would find love again, only to run into financial trouble and be forced into bankruptcy. This meant that he had to sell all of his paintings, and lived in poverty the rest of his life.
Yet another mythical figure on this list is the god Zeus. He is considered to be the chief deity and father of all the gods and humans. According to legend, he controlled the weather, and used a thunderbolt as a weapon. Of course, Zeus was never a real person. But this statue is one of many artistic depictions of what he may have looked like. The AI version on the right is actually a depiction of the model who posed for the statue, rather than the god himself. But if you saw him walking around today, he might look rather god-like anyway.
Caesar Augustus, also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor. He is considered to be one of the greatest leaders in history. During his reign, Augustus established an imperial cult, which meant that his leadership was meant to have the reverence of a god. His great-uncle was Julius Caesar. Looking at the AI rendering of what he would look like today, Augustus seems more like a supermodel rather than a Roman leader. He would fit right in on the red carpet in Hollywood, or in some teenage TV drama.
Caligula served as the third emperor of Rome. He was in his 20’s when he came to power, which explains the baby face we see in the modern AI rendering. Apparently, he was balding from an early age. So this depiction may have too much hair on his head. Sometimes, he would wear wigs to cover it up. And if he saw a man with a lusciously thick beard, he would demand that it be shaved out of jealousy. According to historians, he was a relaxed ruler for the first six months of his reign. After that, he was considered to be a sadistic, insane tyrant who was also sexually perverted. His power was short-lived, though, and he was only emperor for four years.
During the 1700’s, Marie Antoinette served as the Queen of France. Born an Austrian princess, Marie married King Louis XVI. She became Queen when she was just 15 years old. As time went on, she made a lot of mistakes that made her rather unpopular among the French people. During the French Revolution, she was captured and beheaded via guillotine. The story of this young teenager living such an extravagant life in Versailles was very popular, and it was even made into a movie called Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst in 2006.
The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth that is said to have been wrapped around Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. On the shroud, you can see the imprint of a man’s face on it. The very first mention of the shroud in history books was in 1354. Just a few years later, in 1389, it was denounced as a fake by the bishop of Troyes. According to radiocarbon dating conducted in 1988, the shroud was said to have been made in the 1200’s- long after Jesus’ death. So, while it’s likely to be a fake, that didn’t stop this artist from making what the mystery man would look like today.
The “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Its current home is at the Louvre museum in Paris, France. Modern-day historians believe that this portrait was depicting a noblewoman named Lisa Gherardini some time in the 1500’s. There are several other theories surrounding this painting, and many people think that it’s incredibly mysterious. Today, the Mona Lisa remains one of the most popular paintings in the world. It has been parodied, re-painted, and featured in movies and TV shows for hundreds of years.
Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, also known as simply “Saladin” was the Muslim sultan of Egypt and Syria. He defeated a gigantic army of Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, and captured the city of Jerusalem in 1187. At the height of his power, he ruled a unified Muslim region stretching from Egypt to Arabia. He is known for being a very kind and generous ruler. When he conquered Jerusalem, he created a law that allowed enslaved people to buy their own freedom. On top of all of that, the depiction of what he would look like today makes him look very attractive.
Eighteenth Century ruler of Russia, Catherine the Great took over during a coup and had her husband Peter III arrested. This made her the new Empress of Russia. During her reign, there was a great renaissance of art and culture. It was a time where a lot of people decided to immigrate to Russia, because she made it such a great place to live. Many historians consider her to be one of the most enlightened rulers to ever live. She was able to spread Russia to new territories, including Alaska. Today, there is a TV series about her life called “The Great”.
Born into a very musical family in 1685, Johan Sebastian Bach grew up to become a composer of the Baroque period. He is considered to be one of the greatest musical composers of all time. When he was 20 years old, he walked 280 miles to see a concert in northern Germany. He had walked so far, he decided to stay a few months to study the local music. During his life, he composed over 1,000 pieces of music. He had an impressive 20 children- 7 with his first wife, and 13 with his second.
The “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I ruled over England from 1558-1603. This time period has been named the “Elizabethan Age”. The reason why she is called “The Virgin Queen” is because she chose to never get married. However, she was in love with a man named Robert Dudley. There were just a few problems. Firstly, he was already married. Second was that he was a commoner. She used her power to turn him into a Lord- the Earl of Leicester. When Robert’s wife died under mysterious circumstances, rumors spread that he may have killed her. This was such a scandal, that Elizabeth knew she could never marry the commoner and possible murderer. However, she still loved him. When she died, his last letter to her was found by her bedside. It was the last thing she read before passing away.
Princess Christina of Denmark became the Duchess of Milan, then Duchess of Lorraine after her two marriages. She also received marriage proposals from King Henry of Navarre, Adolf of Holstein, the prince of Piedmont, and Albert of Brandenburg. When she was 16 years old, King Henry VIII of England sent the painter Hans Holbein the Younger to do Christina’s portrait, because he was considering her as one of his many wives. She had heard of his history, and said, “If I had two heads, I would happily put one at the disposal of the King of England”. Needless to say, there was no proposal.
Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary” is remembered as a violent ruler. This may be because she grew up having King Henry VIII as a father. She had to grow up watching her father divorce and execute several stepmothers. Unlike her father, Mary wanted England to return to Catholicism. During this religious transition, she ordered that 300 Protestants should be burned at the stake. (This is how she earned the nickname “bloody Mary”.) Queen Mary never had any children. When she died, she was succeeded by her younger sister Elizabeth.
The ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, has been an iconic part of literature, music, and art. Obviously, she was never a real person. But in the statues made in her likeness, the artist chose a truly stunningly beautiful woman as the model. Aphrodite is almost always depicted in the nude, and she is always perfectly symmetrical. In the 5th Century, The Aphrodite in Acrocorinth temple was built in her honor in the ancient city of Corinth. Since Aphrodite was also the goddess of lust, this became a central location for men to receive services from sex workers.
Born in 1542, Mary Queen of Scots was asked to marry King Henry VIII’s son Prince Edward, but they refused. This sparked The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh between England and Scotland, also known as the “Rough Wooing”, since this was meant to somehow change Scotland’s mind about marrying their princess. She was sent to France to marry Francis II, Dauphin and heir to the throne. Sadly, he died at a very young age. Later in life, she had to flee to England, and became a prisoner of Elizabeth I for 19 years before she was executed for treason. In 2018, the movie Mary Queen of Scotswas made depicting her life story.
Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven goes down in history for being one of the most successful musical composers of all time. He started losing his hearing at the age of 26, and eventually went completely deaf. There was a letter that he wrote to a friend saying that when he was totally deaf, it made him hide from society, because he was terrified to admit to anyone about his condition. It also made it incredibly hard for him to make music, but he continued to compose despite his handicap. There is some speculation that Beethoven may have had some African ancestry, because he was known for having a darker complexion. However, this was never proven in any way. In the depiction of what he may look like today, he’s giving Edward Cullen vibes.
Mary Shelley is famously known as the author of Frankenstein. When she was 16 years old, she married a poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley. One June evening in 1816, Mary and her friends were staying with Lord Byron in Geneva when they all decided to have a contest to see who could write the best ghost story. The result was her novelette Frankenstein. She was just 19 years old at the time, and yet she authored one of the most iconic stories in horror history. In 2017, a movie called Mary Shelley premiered telling the story of her life. Today, her story is still read by horror and sci fi fans everywhere, and her characters have been reimagined in TV and film time and time again.
Cleopatra was the Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC. Even though she was born in Egypt, her family origins began in Greece. For several generations, Greek-speaking men ruled over Egypt, but Cleopatra was actually the first ruler to learn the Egyptian language. Cleopatra was said to be one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. However, records show that she was incredibly intelligent, and that her charm and wit may have been the most attractive thing about her. She famously became lovers with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The 1963 film about her called Cleopatrastarring Elizabeth Taylor is considered to be one of the most expensive movies of all time. In the AI rendering of what she would look like today, she has been given a very cute pixie cut.