Six Famous Siblings

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It must be hard being the lesser-known sibling of one of the world’s greatest painters, or authors, or minds. On a larger scale, I bet it’s like going through high school as the younger sibling of a brother who was the star quarterback. “Van Gogh? Are you related to Vincent? Oh, man, Starry Night was just amazing.” OK, maybe not. But at any rate, there are often supportive siblings behind the successes of great people – here are just a few of them.

Branwell Bronte


Branwell was the only boy out of all of the Bronte siblings, and was by all accounts extremely talented in his own right. But what I think is most interesting is that he may have been the inspiration behind The Graduate. In 1843, he was hired as the tutor for the family of a local reverend, Edmund Robinson. It’s well documented that he fell in love with Lydia Robinson, Edmund’s wife, so it’s no surprised that Branwell was “mysteriously” dismissed from his position in 1845 - It’s thought that Rev. Robinson found out that the two were having an affair. Heartbroken by the loss of Mrs. Robinson, he began drinking a lot and was likely addicted to opium. He ended up dying of tuberculosis, as did his sisters Emily and Anne. Charles Richard Webb, the author of The Graduate, is also rumored to have based the novel on his own affair with an older, rich socialite, but I would say he had at least heard of the Branwell Bronte story just based on the similarity of the names of the main characters.

Cassandra Austen


Like a lot of little sisters, Jane adored her older sibling and emulated everything Cassandra did. Their mother once said, “If Cassandra’s head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too.” Jane wrote numerous letters to her sister, but only about 100 have survived. Cassandra supposedly destroyed most of the letters after Jane died in 1817. Like her famous sister, Cassandra never married.

Erasmus Darwin


Erasmus was five years older than his famous brother, Charles. He went to the Shrewsbury Boarding School and developed in interest in chemistry, so he and Charles set up an amateur lab in the garden shed at their house. By 1822, he decided to study medicine, but by 1829, he had given up the career at his father’s advice. Dr. Robert Waring Darwin felt that Erasmus was too frail and delicate of a man to handle such a stressful career and talked him into retirement at the age of 26. He and Charles were very close and visited often, even after Charles got sick and started to become reclusive. Charles’ children loved Erasmus and called him Uncle Ras. He died in September 1881, more than 50 years after his father told him he was too sickly to do much with his life.

Theo van Gogh


As the younger brother of Vincent, Theo was instrumental in Vincent’s success – he provided materials and financial support and introduced him to Gaugain, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rousseau, Pissaro and Seurat (Theo was an art dealer and had excellent connections). Vincent even lived with Theo for a while. When they didn’t live together, they were constantly writing to one another. These letters have been compiled in a book, but you won’t find many of Theo’s letters – Vincent apparently destroyed most of Theo’s correspondence, while Theo avidly saved everything from Vincent. Some of Vincent's responses, though, indicate that Theo was aware of Vincent's mental health issues and was concerned about his brother.

Marianne Mozart


Maria Anna (she didn't go by Marianne until she was an adult) was Wolfgang’s older sister, and his only sibling who didn’t die in infancy. She was part of the Mozart family Grand Tour from 1763-1766, and was even the big draw in the early years – she showed a natural talent for the harpsichord and piano. Eventually, when she got old enough to marry, she was no longer allowed to tour or show off her musical talents. She apparently was a good composer, because letters from Mozart have survived that praise her artistry, but none of her pieces have ever been found. She and Wolfgang were quite close as children but apparently drifted apart as adults – no correspondence between the two exists after 1788.

Bartholomew Columbus


Bartholomew was just one of Christopher's brothers - he had two others, Giacomo and Giovanni. Bartholomew was, fittingly, a mapmaker. Apparently world exploration ran in the family. This map is from the workshop of Bartholomew and Christopher; it’s been documented that they worked closely together. In 1494, he helped Christopher in his campaigns to conquer Hispaniola and governed it for a while. He was also a member of Christopher’s last transatlantic expedition.

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You forgot the biggest example of having a more famous sibling, James the brother of Jesus! Yup, The Christ had a brother named James. Plus three other brothers named Joseph, Simon and Judas and three sisters whose names are never mentioned. (sexist much?) Can you imagine being brother to Jesus? "The way Mother treats you you'd think you're the second coming... Oh, right." Just think how confusing it must of been at the old carpentry shop. Bam, you'd hit your thumb with a hammer and yell "Jesus Christ, no not you bro!" Poor James, spending the rest of his life always being hit up for free tickets to the kingdom of heaven. "Yo my man James, can you score me in no questions asked, if you know what I mean." Sitting in a bar muttering insults about his more famous sibling only to have his wine turn into blood. Pity any woman James would marry. "You'd think your brother could of hooked you up with an angel instead of HER." I'd go on, but I think I've dammed myself enough for one day.
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I believe Branwell also died standing up, leaning against his mantle while smoking a cigarette, just to prove that he could. I'll see if I can find where I read that...
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