Vincent van Gogh ear replica made from relative’s DNA goes on display

A replica of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh's famously severed ear on display Wednesday at the Center for Art and Media museum in Karlsruhe, Germany. The ear is said to be made out of tissue grown from the DNA of a relative of the artist.
(Thomas Kienzle / AFP/Getty Images)

It sounds like a cross between the movies “Jurassic Park” and “Lust for Life.”

A museum in Germany is displaying what it says is a copy of Vincent van Gogh’s ear created using genetic material from a family member of the 19th century artist. The Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, is displaying the object as part of an exhibition of work by artist Diemut Strebe, who created the “ear” with the aid of a 3-D printer.

Strebe said the copy of the ear uses DNA material from Lieuwe van Gogh, the great-great-grandson of Theo Van Gogh, Vincent’s brother.

Strebe’s website says the original intention was to use “biological material” from Vincent Van Gogh obtained from an envelope the artist used in 1883. DNA was supposed to be extracted from the envelope, cloned and eventually incorporated into living cartilage cells acquired from Lieuwe van Gogh.


But the DNA from the envelope turned out to be from another person, not the artist, according to reports. The genetic material from Lieuwe van Gogh was grown at a Boston hospital, and a 3-D printer shaped cells into the form of an ear.

Vincent van Gogh is believed to have cut off a part of his left ear in 1888 in a fit of rage. The ear created by Strebe is on display in Germany through July 6 and is expected to go on display in New York in 2015, though no venue has been announced.