Historical figures such as Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci are household names. Nevertheless, these figures often feel like part of a distant past full of people we can barely imagine. That is how graphic designer Becca Saladin felt several years ago. As a fan of both history and art, Saladin decided to use her Photoshop skills to bring historical figures to life for a series entitled Royalty Now. Starting with contemporary (or close to) representations, Saladin transforms each famous face into a modern version of how that person might look in the year 2021.
Saladin began modernizing images in 2018. Her first project was a portrait of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England who famously lost her head. Using stock images and Photoshop, the designer morphs each face and adjusts the clothing for each figure. Saladin tells My Modern Met, “I want the end result image to embody the personality of the figure as closely as possible. I'll make a little nod to their heritage or history…I also did Girl with a Pearl Earring, where I made sure to update her iconic pearl earring into a modern-day Chanel earring—just making sure those historical through-lines are there.” This attention to detail is part of what makes Royalty Now such a fascinating project.
Saladin has honed her technical skills creating over 70 modernizations. She describes her modernization process for My Modern Met: “First I research to figure out the best choices for hair, skin tone, and general personality. I use this information to find a suitable stock photo online to use as a base that I think kind of matches the persona of the figure. For instance in my Elizabeth I recreation, I really loved the regal and high brow look of the stock photo I found. And then my usual process is to basically Photoshop bits of different photos together to come up with the finished product. Usually the eyes, nose, and mouth are all bits of different images!”
This laborious process results in photo-real images with a striking resemblance to the historical portrait. Under this process, Haitian general and revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture (or L'Ouverture) becomes a modern hero dressed in a blue button down. Not all modernizations are of heroes though. The 16th-century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory is modernized, her dark eyes and pursed lips still hiding the brutal murderess inside. Some portraits are even anonymous—such as the young man painted on a wooden Fayum mummy board. About 2,000 years later, his soulful expression seems as alive as you or I.
To stay up to date on Saladin's Royalty Now project, follow her website and Instagram. You can also get a behind-the-scenes look at how she makes such fascinating portraits by exploring her YouTube channel.
Becca Saladin modernizes historical figures in a series titled Royalty Now. Scroll down for a look at some of her best work.
Chevalier de Saint Georges
Countess Elizabeth Bathory
Girl With A Peal Earring by Johannes Vermeer
Queen Marie Antoinette of France
Leonardo da Vinci
King Sejong the Great of Korea
Katherine Howard, Doomed Queen of England
Joan of Arc
Yoruba Ruler, Bronze Ife Head
King Henry VIII of England
Policarpa Salavarrieta, “La Pola”
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent