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Van Gogh's Health and his Medications Intrigue Many

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/23/2006 | Arts and Culture
If youre not an art aficionado then at best you may be able to only identify with Vincent Van Gogh as the artist who cut off his ear. Physically and mentally he had more woes than just his missing ear.

For review, heres a brief recap of the ear-story. Reportedly, on December 23, 1888 Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had an altercation in which Van Gogh is said to have threatened Gauguin with a knife. Later that evening Van Gogh returned to the "Yellow House" in Arles where he lived and mutilated himself. Holding the open razor in his right hand, he sliced through his left ear; starting high at the back and chopping downwards so that all the lower part of the ear had been hacked off. This left part of the upper ear still attached as a repugnant flap of flesh.

Van Gogh then wrapped the ear in cloth and made his way to a favorite brothel where he presented this "present" to a prostitute. The police were called in and Van Gogh was subsequently hospitalized. The severed tissue of the ear was placed into a jar of alcohol in case it might be needed as evidence. Some months later it was thrown out.

Further, if you take his ear cutting episode into account, he retained very little memory of it afterward. Perhaps the reason for this lapse was detached amnesia. He could have injured himself in a dissociated state and therefore may have not felt as much pain as another person would. A fit of despair could have been a trigger and he could have lost memory of the traumatic event afterward. Thats one theory, anyway.

Vincent had other ailments other than the mere ear-incident. He had a history of physical problems due, in part, to his poverty and the fact that he was often malnourished. Van Gogh was supposedly also addicted to absinthe, a dangerous narcotic drink popular in the late 19th century. Speculations as to the cause of Van Goghs physical problems include syphilis, tinnitus, lead poisoning, Meniere's syndrome and epilepsy. There has also been some discussion that Vincent was the victim of "bad genes". Vincent Van Goghs family wasn't of strong lineage. Both of his brothers died young and his sister, Wilhelmina, spent most of her life in a mental asylum.
Nonetheless, much of the present discussion about Van Goghs heath are purely speculative; mere opinions. Though some find the topic itself it very interesting, there may not be any direct correlation between his illnesses and his brilliance in art. Regardless, the masses still believe Vincent Van Gogh was a phenomenal man. He expressed his beliefs, his thoughts, and his soul in his work. When you see a painting by Van Gogh, its not necessary to believe he painted it because he had syphilis. Look past the fact that the man lived in an asylum. Rather, focus on the art and the spirit it expresses instead of the autism or gonorrhea or tinnitus or lead addiction or vertigo that so many people claim he had.