The Richard III Visitor Centre has given Richard yet another new face. An updated version of the reconstructed head of King Richard III has been unveiled. The press release states that “The results of DNA testing carried out by Dr Turi King of University of Leicester in early 2014 showed that King Richard’s hair was likely to have been blond, at least in childhood, and that he would have blue eyes. As a result of these findings, the reconstruction has now been updated.”

Here’s your “new” Richard. How do you like him?

Richard-100315-640x356

The report Identification of the remains of King Richard III released in December stated, among other things, that there was a 77% probability of Richard having blond hair and a 96% probability of having blue eyes. The eyes are no surprise, the closest to contemporary portraits we have show him with blue eyes. Following on from this statement the report noted that “current hair colour DNA predictions resemble childhood hair colour and it is important to note that in certain blond individuals, hair colour can darken during adolescence.”

So it is not certain that Richard was blonde as an adult. So why the change to the facial reconstruction? It’s all about the emerging belief that imprecise branches of scientific testing are suddenly more important than actual historical record. The reconstruction itself is problematic, there is no way to get a real likeness from centuries-old skeletal remains. They can determine little else than possible facial shape.

Richard-III-Double-Plastic-Head

The eye and hair colour are not the only change. Richard’s eyebrows have had a severe trimming and, while it may be the lighting, his complexion looks distinctly fairer. These changes have been made to suit the alleged new scientific evidence, yet neither his eyebrows nor his complexion were discussed in the recent report. So how could these two factors be based on science? The fact is they are not. They are based on perception and influence. Because it is now being touted Richard was blond his eyebrows and complexion are more delicate to suit the theory, when it was previously influenced by his surviving portraits.

What next? A change to Richard III’s face based on the miraculous discovery that he consumed a lot of fish? Perhaps they’ll give the plastic head teeth next.

The plastic head of Richard III is a polymer impression created with a 3D printer, based only on skeletal remains, which cannot create a precise likeness. Is it really his face? I’ll stick to portraits based on earlier originals.

Richard-III-Double-Portrait


About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

15 Responses

  1. Jane Carpenter

    Agreed, early originals a better guide. Intelligent, sensitive brown haired with a sense of responsibility to humanity.
    This plastic head should be trashed.
    What more can be done to misrepresent, misunderstand and dishonour this man?
    Loved, known and appreciated by the people of the North.

    Leave it to Leicester.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      I agree Jane the portraits of Richard, which show such similar features and wavy hair, are very expressive. This plastic head is an absolute shocking misrepresentation of him.

      Reply
  2. Jasmine

    I could not agree more, Olga. The facial reconstruction was only ever going to be approximate, using the bone structure as a basis. Everything else about it is based on an average of the stored statistics in the computer programme used to build muscles and flesh. There are no lines – laughter or worry – and no real sense of the complexion Richard might have had.

    It does, however, give us an impression of what Richard might have looked like and for many people, it has been a revelation. Whilst there were many things to criticise, the terrible bushy eyebrows being one, in the head’s previous incarnation, the current appearance of it with a terrible ‘bottle-blond’ wig is so much worse.

    I cannot understand why, if changes were to be made in light of the DNA research, the previously very dark wig was not exchanged for a more lighter brown one. It is probable that Richard, along with his brother Edward, were typically blond children, whose hair gradually darkened as they grew into their teens and adulthood.

    I did not think it was possible to make the reconstructed head look worse. However, I was wrong.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      I really can’t see why this plastic head has been a revelation for anyone. Considering the completely different shape of the eyebrows it should be more obvious than ever that the whole thing is an ‘artist’s impression’ rather than an accurate representation.
      I hated the eyebrows on the last one too, but we can no longer say that they’re based on anything other than Caroline Wilkinson’s ideas of what they should look like according to Richard’s hair colour.

      Reply
  3. myrna smith

    This is based on my own scientific, but very small, study – my four children:
    75% of them do have light-colored eyes. They were tow-headed as children, but have darkened to dark blond or light brown as adults.
    25% (one son) has very dark brown hair, very dark brown eyes, and the kind of sallow complexion that tans easily, and this was obvious from the time he was a few months old.
    Hundreds of years from now, would some ‘expert’ be justified in concluding that either he had to be a blue-eyed blond because his siblings were, or that he was not a full sibling of theirs because he did not ‘match’ them? And this in spite of photographic evidence to the contrary. Granted, portraits are not photographs, but Richard’s early portraits were near-contemporary, and shouldn’t be left out of consideration.
    FWIW, my feeling is that Richard had medium-brown hair and straight, level, but not necessarily bushy, brows. This new plastic head makes him look, well, plastic – and too much like Henry VII!

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      I would be very careful of keeping company with archers if I were you Myrna 😉
      I think both of Richard’s early portraits have distinctly similar features. The Society of Antiquities portrait probably gives a very good impression of his hair colour, and both are wavy.

      Reply
      • myrna smith

        I recall reading somewhere that a Welsh source referred to Richard as “the little Jew,” meaning to insult. Which would imply rather Mediterranian coloring. Many Italians, for instance, have blue eyes, and some are even blond, but less so than Scandinavians, of course.

      • Olga Hughes

        I haven’t heard that one before Myrna. I agree it implies he was dark haired.

      • myrna smith

        I think another contemporary referred to Richard as a ‘hang-lipped Saracen,’ which would also imply darkish coloring – maybe a tan, considering he was an outdoorsman?

  4. Banditqueen

    Richard with a blonde wig looks like one of those doll heads from girls world with different colours and styles. It looks too fake and too blonde, surely the original is better.

    Reply
  5. Marigold

    Urgh, I can’t stand this head. Why couldn’t the scientific info be sent to Madam Tussauds so the experts there could complete the superficial part? I know they can look a bit odd but no where near as odd as this awful rendering.
    Please just leave it alone, scientists! Great article by the way.

    Reply
  6. Gapper

    No problem with the blue eyes. Keep the dark hair and eye broughs. What is sad is the stereotype here of blonde hair blue eye being superior to dark hair and dark eyes as if that is sinister. Yeah, I’ll keep with the historical images.

    Reply
  7. Susan MacDonald

    I actually never minded the original head, and I think that the hair and eye colour were closer to the original head than the “Malibu Ken” version that they have now. All of the portraits that I have seen show him with brown hair and dark grey eyes. My own family is a good example of how he can have this colouring despite the DNA findings. My sister and all three of her children were very fair, but ended up with dark hair (darker than Richard’s portraits, even). My eyes are probably considered blue genetically, but have a fair bit of grey in them, and look quite dark. So the blue-eyed beach boy head just doesn’t cut it, sorry.

    Reply
  8. Yvon Barker

    I don’t believe you can rely wholly on one source and expect to get an accurate impression. You have to take all of the information and consider how each is biased and you will still only get a ‘most likely’ result.

    It is wrong to discount newer scientific evidence just because it does not agree with previous impressions. It is not all ‘just statistics’.
    Myrna – your analysis of your children is not scientific at all. You describe only their phenotype and not their genetic complement. There is more to heredity than is directly visible. That said, our knowledge of genetic expression is insufficient to be absolutely certain and not everything is genetically predetermined anyway.

    Written evidence of the period is a good source but you have to consider the character and politics of the speaker as well as alternate meanings of the prose. The ‘little jew’ comment for example could easily be a reference to the shape of his nose rather than his complexion. Without further context it could even refer to a behaviour or personality trait.

    Portraits are useful but not necessarily particularly factual. Two similar portraits could mean as little as that the two artists followed the same artistic school. Who commissioned the portrait would also influence the image in that unrealistic traits would be added or flaws omitted depending on the latest fashion and whether the artist needed to flatter the subject. The portrait’s credentials are as important as the image itself especially in the case of Richard III where they are mostly copies of lost originals and altered after his death to please the Tudors.

    The best result comes from correlating expert opinions of all three. So I choose to believe what the science that says that he was almost certainly blue eyed and at least started life blond or at least fair haired. The portrait that art historians seem to believe is the most accurate based on the artist and other specialist factors would also seem to corroborate pale eyes and light brown hair. Fair complexion has always been viewed as a desirable attribute of the nobility so again portrait accuracy is generally suspect but the ‘accurate’ portrait is closer to the new complexion than the old. From his skeleton he was certainly short because of his spinal deformity but not infirm which is further attested to in other writings of his physical prowess prior to and following his death.

    Where science, art and literature agree is where I would place my money – short, fairish haired, blue eyes, probably fairish skinned. My main beef with the head, other than the obvious it looks stupid, is that only Shakespeare, who described him as a toad, ever depicted him with that stupid hairstyle…

    Reply

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