Researchers from the University of Nottingham and the University of Bradford used facial recognition technology to identify the author a painting known as the de Brécy Tondo. Its painter, researchers now believe, is highly likely to have been the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael.

The researchers found that the faces of the Madonna and child in the de Brécy Tondo were identical to ones in the Raphael altarpiece Sistine Madonna.

Digital image analysis and comparison of the figures in both works found the facial features of the Madonnas to be 97 percent similar, and the facial features of the child to be 86 percent similar.

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University of Nottingham honorary research fellow Dr. Christopher Brooke told the BBC these figures indicate a “very high statistical probability the artworks are by identical creators.”

Brooke, a digital image analysis expert, co-authored a research paper about the discovery with University of Bradford visual computing professor Hassan Ugail, molecular spectroscopy professor Howell Edwards, and Timothy Benoy, an art researcher and honorary secretary of the de Brécy Trust. The paper was presented at an international conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and is expected to be published later this month.

Ugail developed the artificial intelligence facial recognition system that can identify patterns in images and video at a much higher level of accuracy than the human eye. The new facial recognition analysis of the de Brécy Tondo painting could give additional credence to previous research done on the pigments used in 2004. Molecular analysis by Edwards showed the pigments in the painting are typical of the early pre-1700 Renaissance period, making it unlikely to be a Victorian copy.

“This is an exciting piece of work that promises much for the future examination of works of art,” Brooke told the BBC

The businessman and art collector George Lester Winward bought the de Brécy Tondo in 1981. Windward set up de Brécy Trust in 1995, two years before his death, in order to preserve his art collection and make the items available for further study. Research on the de Brécy Tondo painting goes back three and half decades, including a case study for a Liverpool University PhD by Murdoch Lothian in 1991. It was first described as a “possible Raphael” by U.K. conservator Harriet Owen Hughes in 2000.