Here in the Information Age, we take for granted the ability to see exactly what someone looks like. With just the click of a camera or a cursory Google search, you can conjure up an image of the most reclusive individual. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way.
For most of history, even the most powerful people were known only through artistic renditions. Complicating matters is the fact that many of these portraits and sculptures contained huge inaccuracies. Fortunately, hi-tech historians have stepped in and recreated these famous faces using CGI renderings and newly unearthed artifacts. The results are nothing short of dramatic.
1. Tutankhamun: Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of the boy king’s tomb made Tut an international sensation. His sarcophagus portrait became an enduring symbol of Egyptian wealth and artistry. But he probably looked quite different in real life.
A product of extensive inbreeding, Tut had a number of genetic defects. He only ruled Egypt for about a decade before either disease or an infected leg fracture led him to bite the dust.
2. Elizabeth I: Over her 44 years on the throne, this queen established herself as one of the most dominant monarchs in Great Britain’s history. While many portraits of her are still in existence, the painters made her look slightly younger.
Contemporary artist Mat Collishaw peeled back the aesthetic improvements to build an animatronic face of Elizabeth I. The lifelike visage also includes minor features typical of that period, including smallpox scars and wisps of facial hair.
3. Julius Caesar: After the famed Roman general installed himself as a dictator, monuments to him spread throughout the empire. His rule lasted for only two years before his assassination at the hands of the Senate.
In 2018, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden took a stab at recreating Caesar. Noticing key similarities in various busts — including a peculiar bump at the top of the head — they produced this somewhat disturbing model of the general.
Remko De Waal
4. George Washington: Before and after his death, images of this Founding Father were everywhere in American culture. However, due to a wide range of artistic interpretations, two portraits of Washington can look like totally different men.
Historians created an approximation of Washington’s true face based on firsthand descriptions and the work of the more trustworthy portraitists of the day. His most devoted followers consistently made note of his tall stature and intense gaze.
5. Cleopatra: The love interest of Caesar ally Mark Antony, she had the tragic distinction of being the final ruler of Egypt before it fell to Rome. Popular legend holds that the beautiful queen took her own life by allowing an asp to bite her.
However, our image of her is largely shaped by modern beauty standards. Based on coin portraits from her lifetime, the real Cleopatra possessed a large jaw and a prominent hooked nose.
6. Maximilien Robespierre: This guillotine-happy lawyer engineered the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. After 17,000 men and women were killed in this period, Robespierre fell out of favor and ironically was executed himself.
Before his burial, Robespierre’s executioners made a death mask. A team of forensic pathologists used it to mold a lifelike portrait of the man in 2013. The recreation revealed many wrinkles and scars that Robespierre’s portraitist kindly left out.
7. Jesus: Curiously, no physical descriptions of the founder of Christianity exist in the Gospels or any non-biblical sources. Our popular conception of Jesus primarily comes from artistic renditions, which often give the Galilean overly European features.
In 2015, researchers analyzed the skulls of many adult male Israelis of that era. Compiling the traits and features that the samples had in common, they generated a rough visual estimate of what Jesus may have looked like.
8. Nefertiti: In contrast to Tutankhamun’s forgettable tenure as pharaoh, Nefertiti oversaw the most prosperous age of Ancient Egypt. Many historians believe the queen disguised herself as a man to solidify her reign following her husband’s death.
A mummy nicknamed “The Younger Lady,” excavated in 2003, may very well be the remains of Queen Nefertiti. Paleoartist Elisabeth Daynes later scanned the body and crafted a 3-D likeness of the mummy. Still, some historians insist it is another woman.
9. Johann Sebastian Bach: The most influential composer of the Baroque period, Bach penned over 1100 compositions over his lifetime. His body was originally laid in an unmarked grave, but that changed 150 years later.
The New Classical FM
The German town of Leipzig moved his remains to a vault in St. Thomas Church, despite protests that they had the wrong body. However, a lifelike facial model based on the skull bears a remarkable similarity to the many portraits of Bach.
10. Augustus: After the death of his great-uncle Julius Caesar, Octavian hunted down the assassins and styled himself as the first Emperor of Rome. Renaming himself Augustus, he returned the empire to peace and prosperity.
Modern artists combined busts of Augustus to produce this rather boyish depiction of the great emperor. They based his reddish hair on pigmentation from ancient paintings of Octavian.
Looking at photos of more recent historical figures, it’s stunning to realize that some were perfect doppelgangers of modern celebrities. Early psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, for instance, looks just like Brad Pitt. And he’s not alone either…
Back in the 1800s, Matthew McConaughey had a secret double, and he looks alright, alright, alright. The key difference is that Matthew drives a Lincoln, while his old-fashioned doppelgänger voted for Lincoln.
That bearded man looks like he could be Ellen DeGeneres’ great-grandfather, but he’s actually author Henry David Thoreau! Ellen probably wouldn’t mind some alone time out in the woods, but Thoreau wouldn’t fare too well hosting a daytime talk show.
Eddie Murphy hasn’t appeared in too many movies in recent years. Could it be because he’s busy traveling back in time? This picture makes it seem like a possibility. These two guys could easily be trading places.
A woman named Shannon Welch shared a childhood photo of her boyfriend online. That part isn’t too unusual, but what’s eerie is how his middle school self is a dead ringer for Natalie Portman.
Nicolas Cage owns a lot of weird stuff: a pet octopus, a dinosaur skull, a couple of medieval castles. So it’s only fitting that he should also have a guy who looked just like him from 150 years ago.
Does Matt Damon have something to explain to his wife, Luciana? Fortunately, Will Hunting can rest easy in this case. That smiling stud on the left is nothing more than a guy who’s the spitting image of the A-list actor.
These days, people know Alec Baldwin for spoofing Donald Trump, but he actually bears a much bigger resemblance to another President — Millard Fillmore! The not-so-famous Fillmore served less than a full term, which is why most Americans don’t see the likeness.
Reddit / oxfordkentuckian
Maggie Gyllenhaal is descended from Swedish nobility, but she looks like she could also be related to Rose Wilder Lane. Daughter of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose helped found the modern libertarian movement.
The King of Pop went through a ton of looks, so we can imagine he “borrowed” a few from other people. Is it possible this portrait was Michael Jackson’s style muse? Never say never in Neverland.
It’s hard to say what’s better, the fact that young Leo DiCaprio has a woman lookalike, or that her name is Judy Zipper? If Judy fell in love with Leo on the Titanic, we bet she would have made room for him on that floating door.
A Lannister always pays his debts, so Peter Dinklage shouldn’t mind emptying out his wallet for this stunning portrait. Capturing the likeness of court jester Sebastián de Morra, it would look right at home on the set of Game of Thrones.
Here are two doppelgängers for the price of one! Andy Samberg and Daniel Radcliffe found their carbon copies in this vintage pic, and it’s almost hard to believe. Maybe Harry Potter cooked up another Polyjuice potion!
Gender-bending lookalikes are often the most impressive. One Redditor could hardly believe his eyes when he found an old photo of his mother that looked uncannily like Barack Obama. On the other hand, she appears to have a much more adventurous hat collection.
Mark Zuckerberg reigns over his Facebook empire, so it’s only fitting that he resembles a real-life monarch. He and King Philip IV of Spain share many features, though Mark lacks the prominent Habsburg lip that characterized many royal European families.
When Christina Ostrom dug through old family photos, she came across this gem of her grandparents, who look like Hugh Hefner and a much older Taylor Swift! Don’t know about you, but they’re looking 82.
Is this what Jack Sparrow looked like before he turned to piracy? In reality, Michael William Johnstone shared this headshot of his grandfather, who was a dead ringer for Johnny Depp — but maybe even more dapper.
We wonder what Justin Timberlake did before his solo career, and we’re not talking about NSYNC. Based of off this 1800s mugshot, we can’t help but wonder if he had a lucrative bank-robbing career back in the day.
Lots of people try to discredit celebrity lookalike photos, but this picture has the stamp of approval from the New York Public Library itself! Titled “Harlem Loiterers,” the 1939 image features the spitting image of Jay-Z. Too bad Beyonce’s double is nowhere in sight!
History buffs may recognize that congressman Thaddeus Stevens has the same look as famous tough guy Tommy Lee Jones. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Steven Spielberg cast Jones to play Stevens in his historical masterpiece, Lincoln.
A wild and crazy guy like Steve Martin has no problem dressing up in wacky outfits, but he didn’t need to in this case! The figure on the left is actually a woman from the Victorian Era. Though she looks a lot like Steve, she would likely blush at many of his jokes.