Richard III: Is this the face that launched 1,000 myths?

Story highlights

  • Richard III Society commissioned a three-dimensional facial reconstruction of King Richard III
  • Model based on remains found in Leicester and established as king's through DNA testing
  • Society says reconstruction shows the human aspect of the "real Richard III"
  • Reconstruction to be "pride of place" at planned visitors center in Leicester, central England
Supporters of King Richard III want a just-revealed reconstruction of the monarch's head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed through the centuries as a murderous villain who butchered his way to power.
The Richard III Society commissioned the reconstruction -- which was unveiled before media in London Tuesday -- after remains believed to be those of the medieval king were discovered under in a parking lot in Leicester, England.
Scientists announced Monday that DNA testing had established that the skeleton was indeed that of Richard III.
Since his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Richard III has been portrayed as hunchbacked and hateful, accused of killing his own nephews, the "Princes in the Tower," to usurp the throne.
But the Richard III Society believes the monarch has been unfairly maligned by history and in particular the Tudors who ousted him.
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It says its three-dimensional model of the king shows a face "far removed from the image of the cold-blooded villain of Shakespeare's play."
Society chairman Dr. Phil Stone told reporters in London that the discovery and identification of the monarch had been "a momentous time" for the society. He praised screenwriter Philippa Langley's "tenacity and bloody-mindedness" in pursuing the project to locate his remains.
Langley said her aims had been two-fold -- to try to find Richard III so that his remains could be retrieved from an "undignified place" and to "go in search of the real Richard III."
Seeing the facial reconstruction, she said, had been the most important moment. "It was the biggest moment because suddenly the aim of seeing the real Richard III came true. That's a man who is three-dimensional in every sense."
In a statement, she said: "The experience was breathtaking -- one of the most overwhelming moments of my life.
"I wasn't alone in finding this an approachable, kindly face, almost inviting conversation."
Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification at the University of Dundee led the reconstruction project.
In a statement, she said Richard III's facial structure was based on "anatomical assessment and interpretation, and a 3D replication process known as stereolithography."
"The final head was pained and textured with glass eyes and a wig, using the portraits as reference, to create a realistic and regal appearance."
Janice Aitken -- from the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee -- said CT scans of the monarch's skull had been used to build the reconstruction, 70% of which was within 2mm accuracy.
Aitken then painted his face.
"He is just a human being. Human beings have certain characteristics -- you can use artistic licence to make assumptions."
"The most useful references were the faces of contemporaries. At one point I used my son."
Aitken said Langley had been clearly "taken aback" when she saw the reconstruction for the first time and that the Richard III Society's reaction as a whole had been "extremely gratifying."
Stone said in a statement that the face was "younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn and with a hint of a smile."
Richard III seemed "alive and about to speak," he said.
"At last, it seems, we have the true image of Richard III -- is this the face that launched a thousand myths?"
Sarah Levitt, head of Leicester City Council's Arts and Museum division said the reconstruction had the presence of a "living, breathing man."
It would be given "pride of place" in the Richard III visitors center due to open in the central England city next year, she said.