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Did Van Gogh cut off his whole ear, or just his earlobe? Debate continues more than a century later

Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait, painted in 1887.
Art Institute of Chicago

Happy 164th birthday to the man who is the personification of the "tortured artist."

Vincent Van Gogh was born on this day in 1853.

University of Michigan medical historian and PBS contributor Dr. Howard Markel joined Stateside to talk about some of the mysteries that still remain about this iconic artist. He started with the famous story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear. 
"Art historians, like any other kind of historians, love to read other people's mail and other people's documents," Markel said. "And recently, an art historian found evidence that only the earlobe was removed, while another doctor's note said that the entire ear was removed."

Now for another mystery surrounding the artist: how he died.

According to Markel, Van Gogh had a history of psychological issues before he died in 1890 at the age of 37. His death is now a source of debate. It was widely accepted that Van Gogh died after attempting suicide, but a new account theorizes that his death may have been an accident. 

Listen to the full interview above to hear more about why Van Gogh remains so compelling after all these years.

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