Society's Arched-Topped Portrait of Richard III Matches DNA-Predicted Eye & Hair Colour

An international research team led by Dr Turi King of the University of Leicester Department of Genetics (leading DNA analyst of The King's DNA: Whole Genome Sequencing of Richard III Project) has published their report on their comprehensive DNA analysis of the skeleton of Richard III, in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications.

The researchers collected DNA from living relatives of Richard III and analysed several genetic markers, including mitochondrial genomes, inherited through the maternal line, and Y-chromosomal markers, inherited through the paternal line, from both the skeletal remains and the living relatives. Analysis of all the available evidence confirms the identity of the skeleton as King Richard III to the point of 99.999% (a conservative opinion!).

Furthermore, the researchers concluded that there is a 96% likelihood that Richard III had blue eyes and 77% likelihood that he had blond or light-coloured hair as a child (which, of course, may have darkened overtime, with age). Among examples of early paintings of the King, the arched-topped portrait of Richard III in the Society of Antiquaries of London's collection is the painting that most closely matches the DNA-predicted hair and eye-colour of Richard III.

Watch Dr Turi King of the University of Leicester interview our Collections Manager Anooshka Rawden about our arch-topped portrait of Richard III.

© University of Leicester, 2014. These videos were produced by the University of Leicester and shared publically on YouTube. The Society is using the videos on its website with permission from the university.

Click here or scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the news report from Channel 4 News, featuring an interview with Dr Turi King filmed in the Society's Burlington House apartmenst and several paintings from the Society's collection.

Richard III 'Grey Friars' Project Background

"In August 2012, the University of Leicester (in collaboration with the Richard III Society and Leicester City Council) began one of the most ambitious archaeological projects ever attempted: no less than a search for the lost grave of King Richard III. The last English king to die in battle.

"Incredibly, the excavation uncovered not only the friary of Grey Friars but also a battle-scarred skeleton with spinal curvature. On 4th February 2013, the University announced to the world's press that these were the remains of King Richard III.

"Read about the background to the search, the discovery and identification of the remains - and the implications for our understanding of history..." [Extract from the University of Leicester website. Click here for more.]

The search for Richard III was led by University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

The Universtiy of Leicester is the principle funder of the 'King's DNA' genome-sequencing project led by Dr Turi King. Dr King's post is partly funded by The Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust. Future plans for the project include sequencing the complete genome of Richard III to learn more about this fascinating historic figure.

Background on the Society's Involvement

Dr Turi King's research team compared examples of early portraiture of Richard III to their DNA-predicted results, including the portrait held by the Royal Collection and the Society's arched-topped painting of Richard III (artist or workshop unknown, c. 1510-1540). The latter is one of the earliest paintings of the King, a 16th-century copy of a prototype created during the King's lifetime, and therefore one of the earliest surviving likenesses of the King. It is also a remarkable painting because it underwent relatively little overpainting throughout the years; what overpainting was apparent was removed during professional conservation a few years ago.

Based on the stereolithography that helped researchers create a life-like reconstruction of Richard III's head and the DNA analysis completed by University of Leicester, we now believe our painting is historically significant for most accurately depicting what the King would have really looked like!

If you would like to know more about our paintings, you may wish to purchase our new Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London, written by Fellows Jill A Franklin, Bernard Nurse, and Pamela Tudor-Craig, and published by Harvey Miller Publishers (Brepols Publishers).

Image requests for the arched-topped portrait of Richard III should be directed to Bridgeman Library.

Richard IIIRichard IIIbrokenswordBosworth _crossfront

Images (left to right): Arched-topped portrait of Richard III (artist or workshop unknown, c. 1510-1540); Richard III with a Broken Sword (artist or workshop unknown, c. 1523-1555); Bosworth Cross (15th century, before 1485; processional cross found at the site of the Battle of Bosworth).

Read More on This Story

You can read more more on this story, regarding the genome sequencing project, the accuracy of the Society's painting of Richard III, or the salacious history revealed through the genealogical and DNA analysis in the news. Here are just a few of the articles that have been posted around the world covering the story, demonstrating the popular appeal for research that interweaves history and art history with science (please note that views or opinions expressed by the authors of the following stories are not endorsed or refuted by the Society of Antiquaries of London and the results are listed in no particular order.):

The above video was published on YouTube by Channel 4 News on 2 December 2014, after their report was broadcast.