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What did the Roman emperors actually look like?

Canadian designer Daniel Voshart conjures up photorealistic portraits of 54 Roman emperors.

We have all seen the statues, either in books or in real life, but did you ever wonder what the Roman emperors actually looked like?

Daniel Voshart, a Canadian designer, has provided us with the closest we are likely to get to gazing into the eyes of a Roman emperor - 54 of them in fact.

From Augustus to Caligula, Nero to Trajan, Hadrian to Marcus Aurelius, they are all included in the Roman Emperor Project undertaken by Voshart during the covid-19 lockdown.

Caligula. © Daniel Voshart.

The Toronto based-designer created photorealistic, colourised portraits using Artbreeder, a generative adversarial network (GAN) application that uses machine learning to manipulate composite images, reports ArtNet.

For each portrait, Voshart uploaded dozens of images of busts depicting the emperor in question, adding information sourced from coins and other artefacts, to create "an increasingly refined approximation of their likeness," according to ArtNet.

Nero. © Daniel Voshart.

Once satisfied with the image, he then switched to Photoshop where he set about removing cracks, adding skin tone, hair and eye colour, creating high-resolution photographic portraits.

Vespian. © Daniel Voshart.

Voshart consulted hundreds of historical references for accuracy purposes but it still wasn't enough for some scholars, leading the designer to go back to the drawing board in some cases following guidance from academics.

© Daniel Voshart

Voshart describes his painstaking work, now available as prints, as "a quarantine project that got a bit out of hand."

To see the results, check out the Roman Emperor Project here.

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