Laser scanning helps forensic scientists recreate Bach's face

March 24, 2008, Dundee, Scotland--Forensic artists at the University of Dundee used laser-based scanning to recreate the face of Johan Sebastian Bach. The Centre for Forensic and Medical Art at Dundee, led by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson, was commissioned by the Bachhaus Museum in Germany to recreate the face of Bach, who only once sat for a painted portrait in his lifetime.

Wilkinson and her team have considerable expertise in the area of facial reconstruction and have worked on everything from criminal investigations to historical projects. In this case they were provided with a bronze cast of Bach's skull from the Bachhaus Museum and asked if they could then "build" the composer's face from this.

"We carried out a laser scan of the skull that allowed us to recreate the musculature and skin of the face on our computer system," Wilkinson says. "By assessing the bone structure we can determine facial morphology and produce an accurate picture of his facial appearance."

Other sources were used to gather information that allowed Wilkinson and colleagues Caroline Needham, Chris Rynn, and Janice Aitken to start fleshing out the face.

"The museum provided us with a copy of the authentic portrait of Bach and from that Janice was able to start texturing of the face," Wilkinson says. "There were also written contemporary documents that described his eye problems causing swollen eyelids. This is really the most complete face that can be built from the available reliable information. As far as we can ascertain, this is how Bach would have looked."

The newly created face of Bach will be on display at the Bachhaus museum in the eastern German town of Eisenach, Bach's birthplace.

The Centre for Forensic and Medical Art is a collaboration at the University of Dundee between the College of Life Sciences and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. Forging a link between these two disciplines, the Centre's work has widespread applications, including human identification, archaeological investigation, medical illustration and museum & media exhibition. The Centre is perhaps most well known for work in facial reconstruction, the process of rebuilding a face from the skull, both to aid forensic identification and archaeological investigation.

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