In this paper, we design a content-based image retrieval system where multiple query examples can be used to indicate the need to retrieve not only images similar to the individual examples, but also those images which actually represent a combination of the content of query images. We propose a scheme for representing content of an image as a combination of features from multiple examples. This scheme is exploited for developing a multiple example-based retrieval engine. We have explored the use of machine learning techniques for generating the most appropriate feature combination scheme for a given class of images. The combination scheme can be used for developing purposive query engines for specialized image databases. Here, we have considered facial image databases. The effectiveness of the image retrieval system is experimentally demonstrated on different databases. © 2006 IEEE.