A German museum has put on display a living, 3D-printed copy of Vincent van Gogh’s ear that was grown using some of the Dutch artist’s genetic material.
The 19th century painter is said to have cut off his own left ear during a psychotic episode in 1888.
The Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe says the replica ear consists of living cells grown from samples provided by Lieuwe van Gogh, the great-great-grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo.
The museum says Lieuwe and Vincent van Gogh share about 1/16th of the same genes, including the Y-chromosome that is passed down the male lineage.
Using a 3D-printer, the cells were shaped to resemble the ear.
Diemut Strebe, the artist, told the AP news agency on Tuesday that she wanted to combine art and science.
“I use science basically like a type of brush, like Vincent used paint.”
She said the ear is being kept alive inside a case containing a nourishing liquid and could theoretically last for years.
Convincing Lieuwe van Gogh to take part was easy. “He loved the project right away,” said Strebe.
Hopes of using genetic material that belonged to the post-Impressionist master himself were dashed when DNA extracted from an envelope turned out to belong to someone else.
Still, work is underway with a female relative to include mitochondrial DNA – passed down the mother’s line – for future installations.
Strebe plans to display the ear in New York next year.