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A.I. Claudius

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2020

Roman Emperors Photos

Roman Emperors Photos

Roman Emperors Photos

For his Roman Emperor Project, Daniel Voshart (whose day job includes making VR sets for Star Trek: Discovery) used a neural-net tool and images of 800 sculptures to create photorealistic portraits of every Roman emperor from 27 BCE to 285 ACE. From the introduction to the project:

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. I’ve striven to age them according to the year of death — their appearance prior to any major illness.

My goal was not to romanticize emperors or make them seem heroic. 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.

Some emperors (latter dynasties, short reigns) did not have surviving busts. For this, I researched multiple coin depictions, family tree and birthplaces. Sometimes I created my own composites.

You can buy a print featuring the likenesses of all 54 emperors on Etsy.

See also Hand-Sculpted Archaeological Reconstructions of Ancient Faces and The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture.