Multiculture, Profiles

Capturing Bolívar’s gaze

The ‘gaze’ of the Liberator/ is the only thing that computers/ cannot recreate.


Armando Orozco Tovar


Forensic artist and director of Barcelona-based company Visualforensic, Philippe Froesch, has been commissioned by the Venezuelan government to create a 3D version of Simón Bolívar’s face. A portrait artist himself, he could not capture Bolivar’s gaze, but with the help of computers, programmes and algorithms he was able to reconstruct his face. As he explained in an interview, he worked “with highly powerful computer systems, among them a Mac 12-core with 24GB of RAM.”

So what exactly is this ‘gaze’? People say the eyes are the window to the soul, but not always. A person’s gaze is a difficult energy to define, as are colours, feelings, or emotional states that we feel at any one moment in the day: “The afternoon arrived late, I expressed in a poem…” I wanted this image to explain my emotional state, and poetry is the only way that allows me to do so.

We believe that it is almost impossible to recreate a gaze from a skull.

And the only thing a plastic surgeon cannot change on a person’s face is their gaze. It is even less likely that a computer can recreate it from the remaining bones from a face that has long been dead.

The forensic designers will only be able to make a rough guess. This is what good portrait artists do; they grasp the one thing that captures the gaze of their subject and with it are able to create the perfect portrait. This is the only thing that will bring true life to a face.

“I tried to reflect a certain sureness and strength in his gaze. These issues are subjective, they have to do with the perception of a face that we have on seeing it for the first time and perceptions are fragile,” explains Froesch.

In ‘The Three Heroes’ (Los tres héroes), José Martí’s famous Golden Age (Edad de Oro) text, Bolívar’s personality and inner strength reflected in his eyes is summed up in just a few words, “his eyes flashed”.

However, it wasn’t his eyes, but rather his gaze that ‘flashed‘ like lightning, because Bolivar had this within him, like a flame inside. Some historians tell of people being unable to hold Bolívar’s gaze when speaking to him, and of having to drop eye contact with him while conversing.

Froesch states: “I tried to get to know him through his actions and I was left surprised by his achievements…” adding in the interview, “I believe that our rendering is about 90% accurate… The face presented to us is a mixed-race one calculated by anthropologists… because the painting of him by the Peruvian José Gil de Castro is anatomically impossible. The axes of the eyes, nose and mouth are not coherent, but with the passing of the centuries they have been taken as truth. This conflicts with the reconstruction based on the Liberator’s actual bones. We carried out a reconstruction, what Gil de Castro did was an interpretation.”

And so it seems neither Philippe Froesch, French-German artist, nor the eighteenth-century Peruvian artist José Gil de Castro have managed to really capture Bolivar’s gaze. Because the eyes are the only thing that do not change over a person’s lifetime.

(Translated by Rachel Eadie – Email: racheleadie@hotmail.com)

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