New Brunswick

700-year-old king gets new face, thanks to Sackville forensic artist

Christian Corbet has done a facial reconstruction on a 2,200 year old Egyptian mummy, he’s sat with Prince Philip while doing HRH’s portrait, and most recently Corbet made a larger than life bust of Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s warrior king, from his well-lit attic studio in Sackville, N.B.

Forensic artist commissioned by Robert the Bruce’s family to reconstruct face of Scottish 'warrior king'

Forensic artist Christian Corbet says he used to casts of Robert the Bruce's skull to create a sculpture of the Scottish king's face. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Christian Corbet has done a facial reconstruction on a 2,200-year-old Egyptian mummy, and sat with Prince Philip while doing the Duke of Edinburgh's portrait.

But his most recent work is a larger-than life-bust of Robert the Bruce, Scotland's warrior king. 

Corbet's latest work from his well-lit attic studio in Sackville, N.B., came after a commission by the 11th Earl of Elgin, Andrew Bruce, to do a portrait.

"When he realized Prince Philip had his portrait done he thought, 'oh well I should have my portrait done, too,'" Corbet said with a laugh.

Descendant of king

Andrew Bruce is a descendant of Robert the Bruce, the king of Scotland after the Scottish Wars of Independence in the early 14th century.

Robert the Bruce's skeleton was exhumed around 1820, and a copy of his skull was made of plaster. Because of Corbet's work in forensics, he was familiar with the skull's existence and the intrigue around Robert the Bruce's life.

It had long been rumoured the warrior king, and Scottish national hero, had leprosy.

Request to see skulls

During one of the portrait sessions, Corbet said, "Lady Elgin was making us a fish lunch, and I thought to myself, I'm going to sit down and ask about the skull."

Andrew Bruce brought out the two editions of the plaster cast for Corbet to inspect.

Christian Corbet brought home to Sackville two casts of Robert the Bruce's skull to create a sculpture of the Scottish king's face. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"So I pleaded my case in a diplomatic way to Lord Elgin and he got on his cell phone and called his daughter who was probably upstairs somewhere and asked her to bring it down.

"And he sent me home with it."

That was three years ago. With a copy of Robert the Bruce's skull, Corbet made his own version with a silicon cast. He recreated muscles to reconstruct the face, paying close attention to details like a mark in the brow bone that was most likely a battle scar.

"I always say it's 25 to 30 hours to do the actual forensics and sculpt it and then the casting part is another 10 hours."

Leprosy rumour unfounded

What now sits in Corbet's studio is a clay bust of a clean-shaven serious looking man, with a pronounced nose, heavy eyebrows, wearing a pageboy haircut.

Forensic artist Christian Corbet created this sculpture of Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s warrior king, from casts of his skull. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

The difference between this facial reconstruction and others of Robert the Bruce, is this one's skin and nose isn't marred by leprosy.

Corbet said he worked with a team including bio-archaeologist Andrew Nelson from Western University to study the science behind rumours of leprosy. According to a press release from the university, Nelson determined King Robert did not have the disease.

Corbet said he was told, "Christian, you can put the muscles in, you can go at it, there's just no way his nose would have been sunken.

"The bones don't lie."

New home in art gallery

The bust does not have a beard because, Corbet said, Lord Elgin understood his ancestor wouldn't have had one.

"I asked him why and he said quite simply it's recorded that King Robert had a man who shaved him. And they have found the implement that would have scraped whiskers off."

Corbet plans to cast the sculpture in bronze, then it will go to the Stirling Smith Art Gallery in Scotland.

And for anyone wondering about the remains of Robert the Bruce, the Warrior King of Scotland, Corbet said they were laid to rest long ago.

"They reburied him in a lead casket, then they poured molten tar over top of it just in case someone wanted to get in to steal his remains."


Tori Weldon


Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.