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Artist Uses AI to Generate Realistic Faces of Subjects From World’s Most Iconic Paintings

Neural Network Artwork Generator

“Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” by Frida Kahlo

Digital artist Denis Shiryaev has put a technological twist on seven of the world’s most famous paintings. Using neural networks (a set of algorithms modeled after the human brain, designed to recognize patterns), he generated realistic faces of artistic subjects like Mona Lisa, the Roman goddess Venus, and the pair from the American Gothic painting. “In the results, you will see an estimation of the face,” Shiryaev says in a video introducing the project, “so we can’t consider those faces as historically accurate, but it is a fun thing to do.”

The algorithm produced portraits that attempted to capture the essence of the original paintings. As a whole, they are successful. Frida Kahlo appears similar to how she depicted herself in Self-Portrait, as does the rendering of the Mona Lisa. And even when the portrait doesn’t quite resemble its predecessor, features of the face still do—such as the nose in Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Machine learning has long been a passion for Shiryaev. “I initially became really interested in it mainly because it sounded really complicated and mysterious when I first heard about it, and I was curious how it all worked,” he tells My Modern Met. “I thought that by doing a blog (about it) I would combat my own laziness, and by writing about machine learning I learned more about it and found other friends who were interested in it.”

Shiryaev had the idea for this neural network art project for years, and he only now found it the right moment to explore the concept. “I finally had the time, skills, and desire to pursue it,” he explains. “Basically, I am an artistic machine-learning person with a soul.”

Denis Shiryaev created a neural network art project that generated realistic faces of subjects from iconic paintings.

Neural Network Artwork Generator

“Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci

AI Art Project

“The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli

AI Art Project

“Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci

Neural Network Art

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer

AI Art Project

“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn

AI Art Project

“American Gothic” by Grant Wood

Learn more about the project when you watch Shiryaev's video.

Denis Shiryaev: YouTube | Instagram | Neural Love

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Denis Shiryaev.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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