Young face of Bonnie Prince Charlie revealed by 3D technology

Researchers use death masks and software to recreate Bonnie Prince Charlie’s face as he looked during the Jacobite rising in 1745.
Rizwan Choudhury
Bonnie Prince Charlie 3D model.

Researchers at the University of Dundee have recreated the face of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the leader of the Jacobite rebellion who tried to restore his father to the British throne in 1745. They used death masks of the Prince and advanced software to produce a 3D model of how he looked when he was 24 years old, the age he was during his famous campaign.

Who was Bonnie Prince Charlie?

Bonnie Prince Charlie, or Prince Charles Edward Stuart, was born to the exiled Stuart King James III of England and Ireland and VIII of Scotland. He landed in Scotland in 1745 with the aim of overthrowing King George II and reclaiming the crown for his father. He won some battles against the government forces but was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

He dreamed of restoring his father’s crown, but his dream turned into a nightmare. He led his loyal followers into a doomed rebellion, which ended in a bloody massacre at Culloden Moor. He escaped the clutches of his enemies, but he never saw his beloved Scotland again. He lived out his days in exile until he died of a stroke in a Roman palace. He died in Rome in 1788 at the age of 67. He was Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, and his story is one of the most romantic and tragic chapters of Scottish history.

Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification

In a press release, it said the researchers at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at Dundee used copies of two death masks of the Prince, which were made after his death as a way of preserving his likeness. The masks are kept at Highlife Highland’s Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. The researchers took hundreds of photographs of the masks and used photogrammetry software to create a 3D model. They then used another software to “de-age” the Prince and remove the effects of his stroke, which he suffered before he died.

The result is a realistic portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie as he would have appeared during his most famous period in history. The researchers hope that this image will help people to connect with him as a person, rather than a legend.

Barbora Veselá, a Masters's student who initiated the project, said that she was interested in doing something different with historical figures. “I wanted to create an image of what he would have looked like during the Jacobite rising. There are many accounts of him but having a face to look at helps us to view him as a human and not just a name from history,” she said.

She added that working with the masks was an incredible experience. “There are moments when you are working with the masks, that it suddenly strikes you that this was once a living person. He has some interesting features, such as his nose and his eyes, that encourage you to study him,” she said.

Dr. Tobias Houlton, who specializes in craniofacial identification and forensic imaging at CAHID, said that this was a hugely exciting project. “Through many hours of hard work, Barbora has given us an exciting new insight into European history. This recreation will undoubtedly fascinate the public and the added dynamic of using artificial age-regression to bring him back to the Jacobite era when he was most famous, showcases the range of expertise we have here at the University of Dundee,” he said.

The project will be part of the University of Dundee’s annual Masters Show, which opens to the public on Saturday 19 August. Visitors will be able to explore a variety of works that include fine art, comics, animation, health, science, innovation, and functionality.

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