Update on Nidd Hall Portrait and 1534 Anne Boleyn Medal – The Press articles are not correct


Most Happi Medal
Most Happi Medal
I contacted the University of California yesterday regarding the news reports about how a facial recognition program had matched the 1534 Moost Happi Medal and the Nidd Hall portrait, and was very surprised to get an email back from Professor Conrad Rudolph of the Department of the History of Art, project director of FACES, who said that their research is actually not complete.

He gave me the following statement and gave me permission to share it here:

Recent findings of the FACES (Faces, Art, and Computerized Evaluation Systems) research project at the University of California, Riverside, have been misinterpreted by the press. While the FACES team did find certain associations and lack of associations between a number of famous portraits (in particular, problematic groups of portraits sometimes said to be of Anne Boleyn and of William Shakespeare), a forthcoming publication by the FACES team will state that the overall results of our work on these particular groups of portraits is inconclusive. As a matter of principle, we are insistent that this technology does not prove the identity of its subjects. It merely provides new categories of evidence for researchers to use in coming to their own conclusions. And it is the decided position of the FACES team that research on these groups of portraits is incomplete.

Thank you so much to Professor Rudolph for helping me with this.

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29 thoughts on “Update on Nidd Hall Portrait and 1534 Anne Boleyn Medal – The Press articles are not correct”
  1. Once again the Press has run away with the truth and caused a ‘Storm in a Tudor Tankard’.

    I wrote a post about this mis-representation and how the FACES team came to study the portaits of Anne Boleyn.


    On a hopeful note Prof Conrad Rudolf remains optimistic that the technology will become increasingly accurate, and hopes to return to Anne Boleyn in the future.

    1. Your ability to reconstruct a replica of the Most Happi medal is commendable and a great contribution to the academic work surrounding Anne Boleyn.

      1. Thank you very much Gail. I felt duty bound to reconstruct the medal after I realised that it still contains a great deal of information. Despite the damage to the the edges and high points there’s a wealth of information there, it was a privilege to be able to study the medal in depth and to restore these features.

    2. Thank you for that work. Your restoration makes her come alive to me in a way the other items do not, Amazing how detailed the artists of the day would be on a coin.

      1. Thank you Judith. I agree that The Moost Happi medal gives us a direct and tangible link to Anne, being the only uncontested contemporary portrait that we have of her, and one of only a few objects linked to her during her reign. Eric Ives was certain that such a commemorative medal could only have been made by royal command, and as Anne was very attentive to presentation one can believe that she would have been closely involved in this project.
        It is often said that the medal is crude, and because of the unflattering compression of her nose it is true that this is the first impression one gets. However, the details preserved in the lower areas of the medal show a painstaking attention to detail and the work of a highly skilled artist. (Note the fabric which identifies the Gable Hood to that worn later by Jane Seymour as depicted by Holbein)
        Though not as slick as portrait medalions later in the century under Elizabeth I, Anne would have chosen the best contemporaneous craftsmen for this important celebratory commission. If only more information was available so that we might find more examples by this artist!

        1. Thank you for your reply. My remark was not well made as I do know of the skill of craftsman of the time and am quite lucky to live near one of the greatest museums in the world that has collections of the time and middle ages.

          I was indeed remarking on the detail which was not flattering and that you so astutely picked up; she is not attractive here. Not just the nose, the under eye area, shows age. If Anne were involved than she was truly interested in an accuracy over flattery. And yes, I saw the medallion in a book by Ives back in the 1980s so saw it was not the french hood she was noted for as a young girl. But she was a mother to be now and the fashion rules would have changed.

          Thanks again.

  2. Thank you Claire for contacting the University of California and obtaining important information with respect to their FACES research.

  3. After reading the story this morning (http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/possible-anne-boleyn-portrait-found-using-facial-recognition-software/ar-BBhBYGR) I compared the image on the medal with that of the Nidd Hall portrait, as I’m sure everyone who read the story did.

    I noticed that in the Nidd Hall portrait, the woman depicted clearly has the initial “B” on the middle of her bodice. At second glance, I noticed a forward slant in front of the “B” that could almost be a decorative “A” (thus forming the initials ‘AB’.) Whether or not the slant forms an ‘A’ or not, the “B” is quite clear.

    Has this ever been part of the argument that the Nidd Hall portrait is truly that of Anne Boleyn?

    Fascinating website, by the way!

  4. I would be sceptical of any sort of facial recognition software confirming the coins as Anne Boleyn or the picture as it is only 60% accurate. The press are notorious for miss reporting on science and finds and research. It is a disappointment but I would not be surprised at this time. Several journal reports and documentaries in this area have shown that facial regognition is flawed. Like all new technology it needs to be refined, may-be in a few years it will be able to literally scan and prove so and so is who they are or identify a person beyond doubt, but despite what we are led to believe on TV cop, FBI shows, you cannot put a face in the computer and make a possitive ID that cannot be challenged in court. That is with people that we know who they are: imagine how difficult it must be using it for the case of identifying someone from 500 years ago, especially if the only known imprint of them is on a coin issued on their name. Coins also do not show a good likeness but sometimes an imperialized likeness; that is they want to be shown a certain way; they are not true likenesses, so this coin of Anne Boleyn will also be flawed and I notice looking at it now that part is missing. While it is possible to reconstruct the part that is missing; from a computer regeneration programme; this of course only shows the image we believe to be Anne; it still could not help with the research at present. I am not surprised that the press have jumped the gun; my husband worked in medical statistics; testing new drugs; publishing the outcomes of those new drugs; he knows what the press can be like, stating that such and such a breakthrough has been made on a new drug, when in fact the research is going on for another ten years. The press take a headline to make something sound good, they reduce the rest of the data and people do not read that anyhow as it is boring and scientific in detail. I have laughed several times at headlines on research projects that I know are going to show something completely different.

    It may be that after much further tests and research, using facial recognition software, and many other techniques that have been known to identify lost portraits, three D X rays for example, face mapping and so on, brush techniques, paint analysis, and a number of other methods, we may finally identify a surviving portrait of Anne Boleyn. That would be a truly remarkable achievment and I hope that Proffessor Rudolph is successful, but at the moment we will just have to wait and read the actual research when it is complete with interest. By the way, folks, never accept data published in the press or claims, read the journals and papers for yourself on the research if you possibly can.

  5. I had pinned it yesterday and promptly stuck the correction with a link to this article today. Better than simply removing it, IMO, which some people did. (which admittedly is still better than leaving the falsehood out there)

  6. Oh Anne, you continue to be a complex, emotion stirring I fathomable person through the centuries <3 🙂 Forever keeping us on our toes with your mystery.

  7. Since the face on the medal is quite worn or damaged, I’m not sure how a pixilated reading of it would then be able to recognise the features on a painting. Fruit of the poisoned tree theory, in a manner of speaking.

  8. Thanks Claire, for reaching out to a source to gain clarity. Excellent and interesting comments by Prof Rudolph.

    What I find very perplexing is this: why is it thought that almost any artist’s rendition of a subject tells us what they really looked like? There is so much interpretation afforded to creating a painting – even though portraits were used, at that time, like photos – still, different artists will view and depict subjects according to their own style and opinions.

    If we had a portrait of Anne by Holbein, who was a master at realism, it would be a great advantage. Even then, the paintings we know he did of Henry only lend us an essence of what he must have looked like in life. There are no known portraits of Anne by Holbein – even though there MUST have been some painted, and most likely a magnificent coronation portrait. Therefore, only certain facts seem plausible. One is that she very likely had a lovely, long oval face. This is shown clearly in every depiction of her. Her cheekbones were high and pronounced, and her facial structure was delicate. It is very likely that she had a strong nose – not a teeny turn-up. Her portraits show this regularly, and if you look at Elizabeth’s portraits, they show a nose with a bridge. We know her eyes were prominent, but not goggle-eyed – this was a comment written by a detractor. The reports from the Venetion ambassador (and who recognizes beauty, if not Italians??!!) said her eyes were black and beautiful (black might mean a rich brown, too). We know she had a great head of hair, and probably a more golden complexion (she had been called swarthy, but my belief is that she had a tan from so much outdoor sport, and had skin that tanned more easily). Other than that, it’s hard to tell.

    So until the day comes when that long lost coronation portrait by Holbein reappears hidden in some closet somewhere ( oh… if only!!!) , we will have to be satisfied with a composite, and the beauty of our own imaginations!

  9. Of all the so-called portraits of Queen Anne Boleyn (as to date, none of her from her actual lifetime have been identified) the Nidd Hall portrait was my least favorite. I thought the Queen was kind of famous for wearing the French hood headress, and the Nidd Hall portrait shows her wearing the English gable hood. I suppose she could wear whatever she liked, but I don’t think the English gable hood is very flattering. I also don’t see the lady in the Nidd Hall portrait as being very attractive. The Queen was not “traditionally” an English style beauty, but was striking, and the woman in the Nidd Hall portrait is not striking. She is unattractive and looks old and worn. However, I have read others comments saying that the Queen’s life was not easy (I”m sure it wasn’t!) and she had at least three childbirths, so she should look a little “rough”. I don’t know; I just don’t feel it in my “gut” that the Nidd Hall portrait is the Queen. With regards to the ring worn by Queen Elizabeth, to me, that does not look like a portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn, but rather Queen Elizabeth when she was a princess, as shown by her famous painting of her in a red dress. And then you can look at the painting of Jane Seymour by Holbein; she is certainly not very attractive (at least to modern eyes) but Anne of Cleves by Holbein is attractive! I wish we would find somewhere, tucked away, a new image of Queen Anne that could be substantiated. I hereby stick to the National Portrait Gallery image of the Queen.

    1. She had really bad miscarriages and was getting older. As Queen, she may well have decided to wear more conservative headgear.

      I thought Ives had concluded which ones were which years ago.

      1. Eric Ives writes that he believes that the Hoskins miniature is based on a lost original and concluded that “Portrait medal – Chequers ring – Hever/NPG pattern – Hoskins miniature: the chain is complete. We have the real Anne Boleyn”, but obviously that was just his opinion and nobody can say for sure.

        1. Yes. That is what I was referring to. I have not
          seen any new info that would dispute his
          assessment, though. And I think he has some authority.

        2. Oh definitely, and I agree with him, but other historians and art historians have different views. I just wanted to point out that his is not the one accepted view. There isn’t really one accepted view on Anne’s portraiture and David Starkey, Roy Strong etc. have different opinions.

        3. I corresponded with Eric Ives before his death in 2012 regarding Anne’s appearance and the reliability of various portraits of her. (To my astonishment and delight Eric got in touch with me as soon as he heard of my Moost Happi.reconstruction. He ordered a copy straight away and was full of questions. His quest for new data and willingness to revise his opinion in the light of fresh evidence appeared marked him as a true historian.

          From our correspondence it seems clear that he revised the opinions given in his 2004 biography of Anne Boleyn. For example, June 2012 Ives wrote to me;
          ‘I agree that the Gable Hood portraits are more credible than the late French hoods while the miniature which Hoskins did for Charles I would do as a make-up advertisement today’.
          However he went on to say ‘The one French hood I do trust is the ring’.

          As I’ve said before my respect for Eric Ives was so great that I didn’t challenge him regarding the credibility of using the tiny Chequers portrait as a tool for identifying Anne’s features. I deeply regret that rather than dare to question this long held opinion, I stepped back – in retrospect I think he would have relished the debate.

          I will soon attempt to write down the key points of our discussion and the issues that I should have addressed to him when I had the chance, and offer them up for debate on the Anne Boleyn Files.

        4. Please forgive my many typos below. I was typing on my lap in the middle of a craft project with my youngest daughter… that’s why it takes so long to give a considered response re Anne’s portraiture!

  10. Oh, yes, thank you Claire. I understand your point and appreciate your giving a wider range of opinion.

    The reason I go with Ives is how he was so thorough and detailed and he actually excluded the ones that were most attractive. He loved Anne, I think, so if he could have found a way to make the pretty ones fit he would have. But that is hardly scientific of me. 🙂

      1. Yes.

        The miniature if not of a beauty, but of a woman who has such a strong impact of charm and intelligence it just makes me think it must be her. Of course that is sully of me, but when I look at other female portraits of the time, they rarely shout through the paint as that one does. I could see how she would stand out in both a good and a bad way. But that is my opinion of Anne in general so I could be projecting.

  11. Wen I look at the representation of our current queen on coins, I can’t say that it really resembles her in terms of how I think of her or perceive her from photos and on TV. It is a stylised portrait, not particularly flattering, but looking regal and strong rather than feminine or attractive. Perhaps this could be the same with the coin showing Ann Boleyn.

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