Past research projects

Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg, Clare Winsten, 1915, Oil, UCL Art Museum Collection 5653

Likeness and Facial Recognition Research Project

UCL Museums and Collections was awarded a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2010 to develop a series of three interdisciplinary research workshops to investigate Likeness and Facial Recognition.


UCL Museums and Collections was awarded a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2010 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 brought 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 investigated 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 were also used to explore models of communication between researchers from the fine arts, the humanities and the sciences.


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.

Workshop 1

Making Faces: Portraiture and Models of Likeness

18 February 2011, National Portrait Gallery, 13.00 - 18.00

This workshop investigated 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 also considered 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.

Download programme and abstracts.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth IIsaac Rosenberg, Clare Winsten

Left to right: Queen Elizabeth I (The Ditchley Portrait), image © National Portrait Gallery, London
Isaac Rosenberg, Clare Winsten, image © UCL Art Museum

Workshop 2

Reading Faces: Physiognomy and Facial Typing

Friday 25 March 2011, Wellcome Collection

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 of 19th-century facial typing persist in 21st-century art and science. 

Download programme and abstracts.

Carte de Visite, George LanceGalton Composite Photograph

Left to right: Carte de Visite, George Lance, image ©National Portrait Gallery, London Francis Galton - Composites of Members of a Family, image ©UCL Library Special Collections

Workshop 3

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.

Download programme and abstracts.

Reflections of a smileWellcome Images 8 Eyes

Left to right: Dianne Harris, Reflections of a Smile (2002), images © Wellcome Images

After Charles Le Brun, Eight Eyes, images © Wellcome Images