University Brings Mary, Queen of Scots Back to Life

3D Facial Reconstruction of Mary, Queen of Scots

3D Facial Reconstruction of Mary, Queen of Scots

A renowned team of experts at the University of Dundee have revealed a 3D virtual image of Mary, Queen of Scots as she would have looked at the time of her reign. The image was released to coincide with a major new exhibition on the life of the iconic figure that opened at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh last Friday.

Professor Caroline Wilkinson, from the Forensic and Medical Art Research Group, worked from existing portraits and from what is known of Mary’s biography to reconstruct her face as it would have been following during her reign in Scotland from the ages of 19 to 26, a period when there is no portrait record of her.

Professor Wilkinson created a head-and-neck model using the portraits of Mary as templates. The model was created using 3D modelling software and craniofacial templates before digital artist Janice Aitken sculpted clothing and hair then added textures and lighting to create the finished image. The team have previously worked on major projects to reconstruct the faces of Bach, Cleopatra’s sister, Simon of Sudbury and Richard III among others.

“There were no portraits painted during Mary’s time in Scotland, but there were both before and after this period,” explained Professor Wilkinson. “Normally we would begin the process of craniofacial reconstruction by examining skeletal remains, but of course we didn’t have a skull to work from in this case so had to work from portraits earlier and later than the depiction we were asked to create.

Face of Mary, Queen of Scots“This meant it was a very different challenge for me and the model is more of an artistic representation rather than the scientific interpretation we would normally produce from skeletal remains. We had to get the facial proportions and size of her features from portraits which, luckily, were from slightly different angles so we could look at her face from more than one viewpoint.

“What we wanted to do was depict how she would have looked at the time she lived in Scotland. This was a difficult time for her marked with illness, grief, miscarriage, and imprisonment so we wanted to show the stresses and strains of life on her face because later portraits make her look significantly older than her years.

“She is not what you would describe as a classic beauty. Mary had quite a big nose and a strong chin so when you describe her verbally she doesn’t sound attractive, but the paleness of her skin, red hair, and strong features meant she had a very striking appearance.”

Janice Aitken then put textures on the model and coloured the skin, hair and eyes to ensure it looked as realistic as possible. She created a short movie of the face being shown from several different angles to give the viewer a more complete impression of Mary during the time of her reign in Scotland.


About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

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2 thoughts on “University Brings Mary, Queen of Scots Back to Life

  1. Pingback: Mary, Queen of Scots Returns to Edinburgh :

  2. Margaret

    I thought there was a death mask made of Mary. Seems I saw something described as such, somewhere in the borders, Moffat? Many years ago.


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