Facial recognition software solves Elizabeth Gaskell mystery

On the 150th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Gaskell (on 12 November 1865), a mystery surrounding the true identity of a silhouette suspected to be of the Victorian novelist has finally been solved.

Silhouette portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell.
Silhouette portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell, c.1830s.

A team from The University of Manchester used state of the art facial measuring software and more traditional provenance research to authenticate the silhouette, which is owned by the descendants of the Gaskell family.

Following their research, medical artist Ray Evans and Stella Halkyard, the Library’s Visual Collections Manager, have concluded that, while they can never confirm the silhouette’s authenticity irrefutably, it is very likely to be of Gaskell.

Stella said: “The silhouette has an excellent ‘provenance’ and a ‘chain of unbroken custody’ which means that it has been kept by Gaskell’s descendants and we know where it has come from and where it has been throughout its history.”

She added: “At The John Rylands Library we have a miniature portrait that is accepted as a likeness of Gaskell. It was made during her life time by her step uncle who was a very skilled portraitist and a comparison between the two images shows strong similarities.”

Portrait miniature of Elizabeth Gaskell [née Stevenson] by W. J. Thomson.
Portrait miniature of Elizabeth Gaskell [née Stevenson] by W. J. Thomson, [June 1832?].

Ray analysed the two images using scientific facial comparison methods and found that the facial proportions and morphology of the face of the person represented were virtually identical. He says his results were “consistent across the two images” and that “putting all this evidence together makes it likely that the two images portray the same person and that person is very likely to be Elizabeth Gaskell.”

Both images are now available via the world’s largest online collection of Elizabeth Gaskell’s manuscripts and printed works.

Watch a video of Stella and Ray talking about the project here:

1 comment on “Facial recognition software solves Elizabeth Gaskell mystery

  1. Reblogged this on Bibliodeviancy and commented:
    Makes list of everyone in history he wants to see the actual face of…

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