Two versions of Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, held to be painted by Caravaggio, hang side by side at the Musee Jacquemart-Andre in Paris to ask which one is the copy? Or are both copies? I also want to share why a painting is now valued at $100 million.

Richard Spear, the author of the 1975 BookCaravaggio and His Followers,” is quoted in the Art Newspaper saying that displaying two versions of a Painting “is one of the best things exhibitions can do to advance scholarship.” But French historian Didier Rykner, writing for the Art Tribune, sees novelty exhibits as "sensationalism” and “a frantic search for scoops.

Not a month goes by without a sensational discovery about Caravaggio appearing in yet other headlines.” I think it is also important to point out the reasons why art auction prices are so high.

Reasons why

According to the Art Newspaper, the Musée Jacquemart-André opted to show the two versions of the painting, even though one of them was authenticated four years ago by Caravaggio scholar Mina Gregori. But, not everyone agrees. Jan van Sman, an art historian at Leiden University, thinks that neither version is legit. The Art Newspaper quotes him saying, “To my mind, both works are 17th-century copies after a lost or as yet untraced original.” That same opinion can be found in Desmond Seward's 1998 book “Caravaggio, A Passionate Life,” which says that when it comes to the artist's painting of Mary Magdelene in Ecstasy, “only copies survived.”

State of mind

And there are other expert opinions that make the museum show suspect.

A factoid in Peter Robb's 1999 book “The Man Who Became Caravaggio” contributes to the view that “only copies survive.” The painting was made when the artist was in exile, on the run from a murder charge. Robb described him as “angry and humiliated, locked out of his house, his things confiscated.” In other words, his life waa mess at the time.

Who can know, then, what happened to the painting? He had lost his studio.

And Seward's books unwittingly punches up Caravaggio's state of mind when he described the portrayal of Mary Magdelene of Ecstasy: “penitent and exhausted rather than ecstatic, no doubt the painter's own frame of mind.” Given that the painter's fiery temper (he was in exile for murder in one of his many fits of rage), he could have trashed the work for all anyone knows.

Fake news

So, how serious an attempt at scholarship is Musée Jacquemart-Andre's exhibition? Or is it simply a frantic search for headlines? If the latter is the case, it wouldn't be the first time a museum pulled this. I'm thinking of the Van Gogh Museum promoting the painter as a madman, and a suicide, with shows like “On the Verge of Insanity,” despite research by his biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White showing that he was an innocent victim of a homicide by a taunting teenager. Rather than clean up Van Gogh's 130-year-old image as a lunatic, the Van Gogh Museum pooh-poohed the research, clearly more intent on sensationalizing him.