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Designer Reimagines What Historical Figures Would Look Like Today

Anonymous Fayum Portrait

An unknown man from a Fayum mummy portrait, personalized wooden mummy boards use din burials of upperclass mummies in Roman Egypt.

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

Chevalier de Saint Georges


Countess Elizabeth Bathory

Elizabeth Bathory


Girl With A Peal Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with A Peal Earring


Queen Marie Antoinette of France

Marie Antoinette


Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci


King Sejong the Great of Korea

King Sejong


Katherine Howard, Doomed Queen of England

Katherine Howard


Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc


Jane Austen

Jane Austen


Yoruba Ruler, Bronze Ife Head

Yoruba Ruler, Bronze Ife Head


King Henry VIII of England

Henry VIII


Toussaint L'Ouverture

Toussaint L'Ouverture


Policarpa Salavarrieta, “La Pola”

Policarpa Salavarrieta, La Pola


Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman the Magnificent


King Richard III of England/strong>

Richard III

Royalty Now: Website | Instagram | Etsy | YouTube

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Becca Saladin.

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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