Artist makes ‘living’ copy of Van Gogh’s ear using family dna

A ‘living’ copy of Vincent van Gogh’s left ear, created using genetic material from Lieuwe van Gogh, a fourth generation member of the artist’s family, has gone on display at a German museum.

The ear, named Sugababe, is an as accurate as possible copy of the one Van Gogh cut off in a moment of madness and is now on show at the museum for art and media technology in Karlsruhe.

The ear was created by artist Diemut Strebe using technology developed by MIT’s Robert Langer and Charles Vacanti from Harvard, who in 1995 successfully recreated a human ear on the back of a mouse. Computer imaging technology was used to make sure the ear looks as much as possible like Van Gogh’s own.


Lieuwe van Gogh is the great grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo and the son of murdered film maker Theo van Gogh.

He supplied tissue and genetic material which has an identical Y chromosome and at least 1/16th of the genetic information that Vincent also carried. Lieuwe van Gogh twice flew to Boston to provide saliva and cartilage to use in the project, the Parool states.

It has taken Strebe more than three years to produce the work and track down Van Gogh’s dna. She even investigated a stamp which Vincent is said to have licked. The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam declined to get involved, the Parool says.

As part of the installation, visitors can talk to the ear using computer software to process the sound.

The ear is one of a series in a limited edition, according to the museum press release. The supplier of the genetic material, however, does not want one in his own home, the Parool points out.

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