PARIS: Experts and art historians are increasingly relying on new technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, to authenticate historic works of art.
But this innovation sometimes produces contradictory results, as in the case of the mysterious “Brécy Tondo.”
Centuries after his death, Raphael continues to stir emotion in the art world. The Italian Renaissance master has recently become the subject of a veritable dispute in artistic circles.
The reason for this is that specialists are unable to ascertain with certainty whether the so-called “Brécy Tondo” is one of that artist’s famous Madonnas or not.
The canvas depicts Madonna and child, a classic subject of Christian iconography. It came to light at a country-house sale in England in 1981, and has been on display since July at the Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford, UK.
Little is known about the “Brécy Tondo,” but a British research team led by Professor Hassan Ugail claims it was painted by Raphael.
The academics came to this conclusion after comparing the “Brécy Tondo” with one of the artist’s masterpieces, the “Sistine Madonna,” using a facial recognition tool.
The software’s algorithm was trained with “millions of faces” so that it could analyze those on the two canvases “in thousands of dimensions.”
This analysis revealed that the face of the Madonna in the “Brécy Tondo” is 97% similar to that of the “Sistine Madonna,” compared with 86% for the children featured in the two paintings. As a result, the specialists are convinced that the “Brécy Tondo” is indeed a Raphael.
“Looking at the faces with the human eye shows an obvious similarity, but the computer can see far more deeply than we can, in thousands of dimensions, to pixel-level.
Based on the high evaluation of this analysis, together with previous research, my fellow co-authors and I have concluded identical models were used for both paintings and they are undoubtedly by the same artist,” Professor Hassan Ugail said in a statement.
GB£29.1 million for a Raphael artwork
However, this discovery is disputed by Dr. Carina Popovici, co-founder of Art Recognition, a Swiss start-up that promises to “eliminate uncertainty and inauthenticity in art by using AI-technology.”
Her research team used Art Recognition’s artificial intelligence software to compare the “Brécy Tondo” with hundreds of close-up digital images of authenticated works by Raphael, as well as with forgeries. The aim was to determine precisely how the artist handled the brush.
This tool enabled Dr Carina Popovici and her colleagues to assert that there is an 85% probability that the “Brécy Tondo” is not Raphaël’s work, reports The Guardian.
These conclusions clearly run counter to those of Professor Hassan Ugail and his team. Experts, such as Sir Timothy Clifford, a specialist in the Italian Renaissance and former director general of the National Galleries of Scotland, believe that the “Brécy Tondo” is a copy of the painter’s work, not one of his original creations.
“My immediate reaction would be that it was possibly French, early 19th century, a good copy – about the time probably that the picture, I’m sure, would have travelled with Napoleon’s booty perhaps to the Louvre,” he told The Guardian.
And there can be no room for doubt. Certified works by the Italian master fetch staggering sums at auction. One of them, a sketch showing the face of a muse, sold for GB£29.1 million at Christie’s in London in 2009, making it the artist’s most expensive work.
If the “Brécy Tondo” is attributed to Raphael, and not to one of his many students or copyists, it could go under the hammer for a sum of similar magnitude. But, until the experts can agree, the artwork looks set to remain a source of mystery and intrigue.