AI Detects Mysterious Detail Hidden in Famous Raphael Masterpiece : ScienceAlert

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be trained to see details in images that escape the human eye. Today, an AI neural network identified something unusual about a face in a Raphael painting: it wasn’t actually painted by Raphael.

The face in question belongs to Saint Joseph, visible at the top left of the painting called the Madonna of the Rose (Or Madonna of the Rose).

Scholars have actually debated for a long time whether or not the painting is an original by Raphael. Although various pieces of evidence are needed to conclude the provenance of a work of art, a new analysis method based on an AI algorithm has sided with those who believe that at least some of the traits originated from another artist.

Researchers from the UK and US have developed a custom analysis algorithm based on the works we know to be the result of the Italian master’s brushwork.

Madonna of the Rose
One of these faces is not like the others. (National Prado Museum)

“Through extensive feature analysis, we used images of authenticated paintings by Raphael to train the computer to recognize his style in great detail, from brushstrokes, color palette, shadows and every aspect of the work”, explains mathematician and computer scientist Hassan. Ugail, of the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, explained this in December, when the researchers’ results were published.

“The computer sees much deeper than the human eye, at the microscopic level.”

Machine learning processes typically need to be trained on a large set of examples, which is not always available when dealing with the work of a single artist. In this case, the team modified the pre-trained architecture developed by Microscoft called ResNet50, coupled with a traditional machine learning technique called Support Vector Machine.

The method has previously been shown to have an accuracy level of 98% when it comes to identifying Raphael’s paintings. Usually he trains on whole images, but here the team also asked him to look at individual faces.

While the Virgin, Child, and St. John all appear to be created by Raphael’s hand, this is not the case for St. Joseph. Researchers note that in previous debates about the authenticity of the painting, the face of Saint Joseph was judged to be less well executed than the others in the frame.

Joseph Chart
Someone else probably played a role against St. Joseph. (Ugail et al., Heritage Sciences2023)

“When we tested the the Rose Overall, the results were inconclusive,” Ugail said.

“So we tested the different parts and, although the rest of the image was confirmed to be Raphael’s, Joseph’s face came out as probably not Raphael’s.”

Giulio Romano, one of Raphael’s students, may be the originator of the fourth face, but this is not at all certain. It’s another example of modern technology unlocking the secrets of classic paintings – this time with AI.

THE Madonna of the Rose was painted on canvas in the years 1518 to 1520, experts believe. It was in the mid-1800s that art critics began to suspect that Raphael may not have painted all the works of art.

Today, those suspicions have almost certainly been proven correct, although the research team behind the study is keen to emphasize that this AI will help art experts in the future, rather than replace them.

“This is not about AI taking people’s jobs,” Ugail said. “The process of authenticating a work of art involves looking at many aspects, from its provenance, pigments, condition, etc.

“However, this type of software can be used as a tool to make the process easier.”

The research was published in Heritage Sciences.

An earlier version of this article was published in December 2023.

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