Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta

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Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta (May 3, 1918 - January 18, 1997) was an Italian painter born in Florence, Italy.


Maria Luisa Ugolini was the middle daughter of seven children born to Florentine writer and painter Luigi Ugolini. She is the sister of Italian children's writer Lydia Ugolini and the mother of American novelist Vanna Bonta.

Her father recognized her talent when she was a child and became her first art teacher. She continued studies with Giuseppe Cassioli, son of the renowned Florentine artist Amos Cassioli who was commissioned to design and sculpt the bas-relief door panels for Florence’s legendary cathedral, Il Duomo.


A Renaissance legacy of daily artistic vision and ideals marked Maria Luisa Ugolini’s early life. Florence was her native soil where she lived with her parents until she was an adult in her thirties. Paintings, journals and her father's biography document her love for Florence, its history, culture, alleys and piazzas, opera, the Tuscan land, and neighboring Viareggio where she vacationed yearly with her parents, brothers and sisters. She called these “i giorni felici” (the happy days) and described the family camaraderie was such that even her parents felt like peers to the seven children. Writer Ugolini read to them from his own prolific works and raised them on recitations of Dante Alighieri and stories of Percy Bysse Shelley, the British ex-patriate poet who had lived and died in Viareggio.

Florentine period

Ugolini-Bonta's paintings and sketchbooks tell of enchantment with Nature and the world around her, and she painted consummately. As a young woman, she rode her bicycle all over Florence with paints, brushes and wooden boards to find places to paint. Florentine shopkeepers allowed her to paint from the rooftops of the medieval buildings that line the Ponte Vecchio. She also found work hand-painting silk fabrics and scarves. In this period, her painting subjects were 14th century alleys, Tuscan landscape and some parts of pre-World War II Florence never to be seen again as they were destroyed in bombings.

During World War II, her father, author Luigi Ugolini was arrested for writing anti-fascist articles. During the American occupation of Italy, she met Cecil James Bonta, her future husband. The American officer’s friendship with the Ugolini family continued after the post-war years through written correspondence for years. Friendship between the author's middle daughter and American officer blossomed into romance and eventually, more than five years later, marriage. It was through these years of letter writing, with the help of a little red English-Italian dictionary, that Maria Luisa Ugolini had learned English as her second language. Family friend and colleague Pietro Annigoni was the best man at the wedding.

Maria Luisa Ugolini was the only member of her family to expatriate. In a biography, her sister Lydia Ugolini described that their father, Luigi Ugolini, could not speak for days from the grief of seeing his daughter move overseas to America. She also describes that moving to the United States was also difficult on Maria Luisa, who was "like a flower transplanted from her sunlight and water" of art and Florentine culture.

American period

After marriage, moving to the US and becoming a citizen in 1959, Maria Luisa Ugolini-Bonta painted landscapes of the American South, New England and the California coast. In the 1960s, she traveled to Thailand, turning her expression to the beauty she found in Thai landscapes and still lives of exotic fruits. In the 1970s, after settling in Alexandria, Virginia, Ugolini-Bonta prolifically painted spring and summer in American suburbia, bringing the tradition of European masters to the American neighborhood. She immortalized flowers, often growing her own "models."[1][2]

Painting style

The artist worked primarily in oils and also painted in watercolor. Her style evolved over the years from a classic foundation of drawing into a style that was ultra-romantic yet did not break its classic legacy of fine art. After attending one of the artist's exhibitions at the Galleria 14 in Florence, noted art critic Carmen Martinelli described in La Nazione, "The art of M. Ugolini-Bonta is, above all, poetry, inspiration and a clear vision of truth. Her landscapes, seascapes, trees and flowers contain atoms of light and color. The artist obviously loves all her subjects, which she has studied searchingly to capture the concealed shading with exquisite sensibility that belonged to the great Tuscan painters—masters of light and color." Paese Sera described her as "faithful to the example of the Impressionists tradition."[3]

Art exhibitions

During her life, the artist's paintings were in numerous solo and collective exhibitions. In 1949, still a resident of her native city of Florence, she showed in Palazzo Strozzi. Her work was exhibited in the National Exhibit of Thailand, and the artist was received by the country's Queen Sirikit. Her art exhibits in the United States included solo shows at The Louvrette Gallery and Zantman Galleries in Carmel, California. She participated in the Martin Luther King Center sponsored International Art Exhibit (1974) and exhibited at the Goldman Fine Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. (1976).[4] Ugolini-Bonta returned to Florence for what was to be her last public exhibition at the Galleria 14 on October 1, 1979. The opening was attended by the literati and art community, including her friend and colleague Pietro Annigoni who signed one of the gallery brochures of her sunflower painting with "Brava!"[5] Ugolini-Bonta dedicated the exhibition of blooming American suburban gardens to her "always loved and never forgotten" city, Florence. When she returned to the US, Ugolini-Bonta was quoted, "My exhibit was both a tribute to my adopted country and to Florence, which has been called 'the city of flowers.'"[6] One of her paintings is owned by a US President, Gerald Ford. The gallery of paintings in music short films by her daughter are all by Ugolini-Bonta.[7][8] The artist consulted her daughter to name her paintings and find appropriate words to title her visual works.[9]

Life and legacy

Cimitero delle Porte Sante - Basilica di San Miniato al Monte; Florence, Italy. Gravestone of artist Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta: "Viva Sempre Nella Gloria Della Verità" (Alive Forever in the Glory of Truth)

Ugolini-Bonta left a legacy of over 150 oils, water colors and sketches that were driven by genuine passion for art and love of beauty. The artist bequeathed her work estate to the care of her daughter.

The artist was described as outspoken and forthright, and an individual who could not be indifferent to injustices. She kept a card on her refrigerator that read: "Vive la difference!" She used the expression as a creed in veneration of originality and to celebrate the diversity of individuals.

A poem about the artist written by her daughter appeared in Attenzione magazine in 1986.[10]

Ugolini-Bonta did not pursue marketing in the commercial art world, a market she perceived as a "circus." She is quoted, “I believe in Art with a capital A.”[11]

During her lifetime, Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta was a vocal advocate for restoration and preservation of Renaissance masterpieces and the legacy of the city of Florence. She also campaigned for justice to be given to Antonio Meucci as the true inventor of the telephone.

Per the artist's wishes, her body was returned to her beloved Florence and is interred at Porte Sante (Holy Doors) cemetery at the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Florence. The tomb is etched with her message: "Viva Sempre Nella Gloria Della Verità": Alive Forever in the Glory of Truth.


  1. Attenzione magazine; July/August 1986
  2. Life to Art, by Ruth Dean; 1979
  3. Alexandria Gardens Make News in Florence, by Dorothy Buffmire; The Alexandria Gazette - On the Town, January 16, 1980
  4. The Art Work of a Florentine; Washington Gazette, 1974
  5. Galleria 14 Program, October 1, 1979 - Exhibition: Maria Luisa Ugolilni Bonta
  6. Alexandria Gardens Make News in Florence, by Dorothy Buffmire; The Alexandria Gazette - On the Town, January 16, 1980
  7. Vanna Bonta - Trivia,
  8. Template:YouTube
  9. Biography, Lydia Ugolini
  10. Angel, by Vanna Bonta. Attenzione magazine; Volume 8, Issue 2 - Volume 9, Issue 2. (1986)
  11. Letters, biography, Lydia Ugolini