Artist uses artificial intelligence to reveal what famous historical figures actually looked like 


If Napoleon had been caught on camera: Artist uses AI to create stunningly realistic photo portraits of famous figures including the Statue of Liberty and Michelangelo’s David

  • Bas Uterwijk, from Amsterdam, creates realistic portraits using technology
  • The artist uses ‘deep-learning’ AI to create realistic photos of famous figures
  • Bas made near perfect photos of Lady Liberty and Napoleon Bonaparte 

A Dutch artist is using modern technology to create realistic photo-style portraits of famous figures only depicted in paint and sculpture.  

Bas Uterwijk, from Amsterdam, explained that he wanted to see if he could create realistic digital renderings of key faces in history, including Vincent Van Gogh and  Napoleon.

He also turned his talents to statues like Michelangelo’s David and the Statue of Liberty.

Bas uses Artbreeder, a ‘deep-learning’ software which can create life-like images from scratch or based on a composite of different portraits.  

The famous statue of David, by artist Michelangelo, at Florence's Galleria dell' Accademia in Italy

An AI-generated portrait of David shows what he would most likely have looked like

Bas Uterwijk, from Amsterdam, can create likenesses of famous historical figures using ‘deep-learning’ technology. Pictured: The famous statue of David, by artist Michelangelo, at Florence’s Galleria dell’ Accademia in Italy, right: an AI-generated portrait of David shows what he would most likely have looked like

Painter Vincent Van Gogh's self-portrait, dating back to 1889, currently on show at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris

A photo-realist portrait of what the Impressionist painter looked like

The deep learning software used by Bas is able to create a realistic portrait of the Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, based on his own self-portraits in oil 

The software uses data points – of common facial features and photographic qualities – to make an image, Bas explained to Femail.   

 ‘I try to guide the software to a credible outcome. I think of my work more as artistic interpretations than scientifically or historically accurate,’ Bas said. 

The artist, who has so far completed before 50 to 60 of the AI-generated images, said: ‘I work on many images at the same time, sometimes leaving them for weeks to pick them up later when I have new inspiration or have stumbled on additional source material.  

A painting of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at the height of his power

A portrait of Bonaparte  generated by Bas thanks to AI

The artist came back to his portrait of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte several times to achieve better results 

He started working on this original picture of American outlaw Billy the Kid, left, to eventually obtain the portrait on the right

He started working on this original picture of American outlaw Billy the Kid, left, to eventually obtain the portrait on the right 

The United State's first president, George Washington, on show at the Corcoran gallery of arts

The realistic portrait of Washington made by Bas using Artbreeder

The software was able to create the right picture of American president George Washington by generating data that learns from thousands of photographs of human faces  

Bas said the challenge of his undertaking was to achieve near perfect photo-realism while also staying true to the person’s likeness, as well as giving his models interesting expressions. 

‘The software tends to drift to averages easily because of its nature, so for that last one I sometimes need some extra tricks and methods to get what I want,’ he explained. 

Currently, Bas is working on a model of Anne Frank: ‘There are several known photographs of her so I might make her older, at an age she never reached,’ he said.  

Johannes Vermeer's famous Girl with a Pearl Earring portrait, on display at Mauritshuis, The Hague

Bas's AI reproduction of the Girl with a Pearl Earring

The AI model is able to reproduce a likeness of the portrait by adding details. The software generates these details by gathering data of photos of human faces. Pictured: The original Girl with a Pearl Earring portrait by Johannes Vermeer on the left, and the AI model on the right 

On the left, a portrait of a Fayum Mummy, which dates back to Roman Egypt. On the right, the AI version

On the left, a portrait of a Fayum Mummy, which dates back to Roman Egypt. On the right, the AI version 

'Self-portrait, wearing a ruff and black hat', one of the last self-portraits by Rembrandt

The AI-generated realistic picture of Rembrandt by Bas

Bas said he ‘guided’ the deep learning software to get the most credible outcome. Left: one of the last self-portraits of Rembrandt, on the right, a photo-realistic version 

Portrait by Santi di Tito of stateman and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince

A more nuanced and detailed version of Machiavelli made with AI

While the likeness of a portrait is down to the skill of the painter, this AI-portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli is down to data gathering and Bas’s artistic flair 



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