Face to Face with History

As AIA-Houston prepares to present Prof. Sarah Hainsworth on April 21, 2015 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on the rediscovery of Richard III, we examine facets of his discovery in the weeksleading up to the lecture.

With the discovery of the remains of King Richard III, a unique, exciting opportunity presented: the chance to discover Richard’s appearance. Perhaps at no other time in history, has it been possible to really know about the appearance of a ruler. The historian has textual evidence and artistic representations. These depictions are diluted through the opinions of the writer or the painter, often serving propagandistic purposes. The most famous portraits of Richard III, depicting him as dark-haired and steely eyed were painted 25 to 30 years after his death. However, archaeology has tools at its disposal that help to create a clearer portrait.

Following the exhumation of the remains of Richard, scholars and scientists at the University of Dundee undertook a facial reconstruction using the bones of his skull. Then, recently, geneticists added an extra dimension through DNA testing and discovered that his hair was blonde and his eyes blue. Genetic specialist Turi King, from the University of Leicester, said analysis of various genetic markers offered clues to the King’s appearance, suggesting he was actually fair haired and had blue eyes.

“[There are] genes that we know are involved in coding for hair and eye color,” she said in December 2014. “The genetic evidence shows he had a 96% probability of having blue eyes, and a 77% probability of having blond hair, though this can darken with age.”

This would mean that the painting of Richard III held by the Society of Antiquaries of London is the closest approximation we have to his real appearance: It shows him with grey-blue eyes and lighter brown hair than other portraits. Compare this painting with the facial reconstruction shown beside it. What do you think about the accuracy of the two depictions?

Earliest surviving portrait of Richard III
Earliest surviving portrait of Richard III
Facial Reconstruction of Richard III
Facial Reconstruction of Richard III


A medieval king comes back to life. To learn more about the techniques used by scientists to undertake a reconstruction, view this video.

Don’t miss the chance to hear about the ‘king in a car park’ as Prof. Sarah Hainsworth tells the story of an important archaeological find that is rewriting history.

Purchase your tickets by calling 713-639-4629.

Following the lecture, join us to party like its 1590 with food, music, and dancing from the Renaissance, the period of Richard’s most controversial publicist – William Shakespeare.

AIA-Houston is grateful for the support of KPMG and Whole Foods in helping to make this event a reality.


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