Sculpted busts give us an idea of what ancient Roman emperors looked like, but what if they had posed for photo portraits? That’s what designer/cinematographer Daniel Voshart explores using AI and Photoshop in his Roman Emperor Project.
After gathering 800 images of busts found online, Voshart used the neural-network tool Artbreeder, historical research, and his Photoshop skills to turn them into photo-realistic portraits of 54 emperors of The Principate (27 BC to 285 AD).
“Artistic interpretations are, by their nature, more art than science but I’ve made an effort to cross-reference their appearance (hair, eyes, ethnicity, etc.) to historical texts and coinage,” Voshart writes in a Medium post explaining the project. “I’ve striven to age them according to the year of death — their appearance prior to any major illness.”
Voshart’s goal was to provide the most accurate glimpse into what the emperor looked like during their reign, which is tricky given the biased nature of these types of sculptures.
“My goal was not to romanticize emperors or make them seem heroic,” he writes. “In choosing bust/sculptures, my approach was to favor the bust that was made when the emperor was alive. Otherwise, I favored the bust made with the greatest craftsmanship and where the emperor was stereotypically uglier — my pet theory being that artists were likely trying to flatter their subjects.”
For emperors who have no surviving busts, Voshart turned to how they were depicted on coins.
Most dramatic change is Macrinus. I had previously referenced an old bust image found on Getty images.
That bust doesn’t seem to be associated with Macrinus anymore. The narrow nose and bald head were inconsistent with coinage. Whitewashing? Now weighted heavily to bronze bust. pic.twitter.com/tKVXLOSsKW
— Dan Voshart 𓀡 𓀒 𓀓 𓀢 (@dvoshart) August 21, 2020
After completing all the photo-realistic portraits, Voshart arranged them into this fascinating print:
You can purchase this 24×36-inch print through Voshart’s Etsy store.
Image credits: Photorealistic portraits by Daniel Voshart and used with permission