02/05/2013 11:54 EST | Updated 04/07/2013 05:12 EDT

King Richard III's Face Reconstructed From Skull

The skull of a 15th-century English king that was found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, has been used to reconstruct the monarch's face, via a technique that can help identify the victims of cold cases.

A life-sized plastic model featuring the likeness of King Richard III, who died in 1485, was unveiled Tuesday at a news conference held by the Richard III Society. The group is dedicated to "reclaiming the reputation" of the king, who died in battle, and has since been portrayed as a disgraceful, murderous villain by historical works such as William Shakespeare's biographical play.

The group's members were clearly thrilled by the result of the reconstruction, which they had commissioned from Caroline Wilkinson, professor of craniofacial identification at the University of Dundee.

"Seeing a true likeness of England's last Plantaganet and warrior king meant, for me, finally coming face to face with the man I'd invested four years searching for," Phillipa Langley, who launched the search for King Richard III's lost remains, said in a statement.

"The experience was breathtaking — one of the most overwhelming moments of my life. I wasn't alone in finding this an approachable, kindly face, almost inviting conversation."

Langley, a screenwriter, serves as secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society.

Phil Stone, chairman of the society, said the reconstruction shows the king in a somewhat different light than existing paintings of him.

"It's an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile," he said.

"When I first saw it, I thought there is enough of the portraits about it for it to be King Richard, but not enough to suggest they have been copied."

Researchers at the University of Leicester confirmed Monday that skeletal remains found last year under a parking lot in the city about 160 kilometres northwest of London belonged to King Richard III. The identification was based on comparison of the skeleton's DNA to that of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian descendent of Richard's older sister, Anne of York.

Science and art combined

Wilkinson, whose research is focused on making facial reconstructions more accurate, used a scientific approach to determine the king's facial features from his skull. She then created a model using 3D printing technology.

The model was painted and completed by Janice Aitken, a lecturer at the University of Dundee's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, who said she drew on her experience in portrait painting.

A similar approach is used for facial reconstructions to help identify the victims of cold cases.

Richard III ruled England from 1483 until he was slain in battle just two years later at age 32 by the army of Henry Tudor, who went on to rule as King Henry VII.

Richard III's body was reportedly buried by the Franciscan monks of Grey Friars in Leicester, but the location of the grave was forgotten after the monastery was dissolved by King Henry VIII about half a century later, along with many other monasteries and convents in England, Wales and Ireland.

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