Likeness and Facial Recognition Research Network

UCL Museums and Collections have been awarded a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to develop a series of three interdisciplinary research workshops to investigate Likeness and Facial Recognition. The representation and interpretation of facial appearance is an important area for research in both the humanities and the biomedical and life sciences. These workshops will bring researchers in the arts, humanities, social sciences and life sciences from UCL and other HE institutions together with museum professionals and contemporary artists to investigate the historical context for our understanding of ‘likeness’ in portraiture and medical images of the face, and the potential of new research on facial recognition to inform work in the arts and humanities. The research network will investigate the ways in which digital and surgical techniques are creating new models of ‘likeness’ for the 21st-century, the synergies and dissonances of these models with the historical definitions of ‘likeness’ in portraiture, and the ways that contemporary artists are engaging with these ideas and technologies. In addition to these themes, the workshops will also be used to explore models of communication between researchers from the fine arts, the humanities and the sciences.

James Northcote Self portrait
Carte de Visite, George LanceWellcome Images 8 Eyes

Left to right: James Northcote, Self portrait, image © UCL Art Museum

Carte de Visite, George Lance,  image © National Portrait Gallery, London

Engraving after Charles Le Brun, Eight Eyes, image © Wellcome Images


Making Faces: Portraiture and Models of Likeness

Friday 18 February 2011, National Portrait Gallery, 13.00 - 18.00 

This workshop will investigate the shifting concept of ‘likeness’ in portraiture as an interplay between interior and exterior identity, including the impact of Cartesian, phenomenological and psychoanalytic theories of mind and body. It will also consider the extent to which models of ‘likeness’ in portraiture can accommodate physical changes to the face through injury and disease, and how historical and contemporary developments in facial surgery challenge models of likeness predicated on physical appearance. 


Reading Faces: Physiognomy and Facial Typing

Friday 25 March 2011, Wellcome Library

This workshop will look at the impact of physiognomic theories on portraiture in the 18th- and 19th-centuries and vice versa. It will consider the porous borderline between photographic portraiture and scientific and institutional photography of the face in the 19th-century, and the development of concepts of likeness in scientific images. Topics will include the use of scientific images to establish norms in facial type, and the ways in which research into facial type has informed social and cultural ideologies from the 19th-century to the present day. It will also discuss the limits and ethics of the use of these technologies for surveillance, predicting disease, and the extent to which the historical ideas and technologies of 19th-century facial typing persist in 21st-century art and science. 


Working Faces: Facial Expression and New Models of Likeness in Portraiture

Friday 8 April 2011, University College London

This workshop will examine how scientific study of the face shifted from physiognomy to pathognomy in the 19th and 20th centuries with studies of facial expression and emotion. It will analyse the applicability to portraiture of these theories of facial expression and more recent facial recognition research focusing on the moving image. It will also consider the rise of ‘neuroarthistory’ and the implications of the retrospective application of ideas from neurology onto portraiture. Finally it will consider alternative ways of expressing likeness in modern and contemporary portrait photography and film.


Booking for these workshops has now closed.



Principal investigator: Dr Emma Chambers, UCL Art Museum
Research project assistant: Krisztina Lackoi, UCL Art Museum

Advisory Board:
Dr Suzannah Biernoff, Department of History of Art and Screen Media,
Birkbeck, University of London
Dr Joe Cain, Department of Science and Technology Studies,
University College London
Dr Simon Chaplin, Wellcome Library
Dr Peter Funnell, National Portrait Gallery

Funded by the AHRC through a Research Networking grant.