top of page

Il Mare Dentro Guido Bonacci

(The Sea Inside Guido Bonacci), 2012

Oil on canvas, 120 cm x 100 cm

(Courtesy of Maria Poggi Cavalletti)

The Art of Maria Poggi Cavalletti

by Nicholas Prychodko

“The first thing I learned as a child was to draw.”

The artistic career of Maria Poggi Cavalletti can without risk of exaggeration be said to have been preordained. Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1959, she is the daughter of Antonio Poggi Cavalletti, a scion of an old Bolognese family, and Moycah A. Korée of New York. Her maternal grandfather, Jean Ulixes Korée, had arrived in the United States as a young consul representing the king of Romania, and here met and married Helen M. Brandow of Boston. A very talented sculptor who studied in the best studios in New York, Moycah Korée had her bronzes cast at the celebrated Galleria Romanelli in Florence.

Soon after the birth of Maria Poggi Cavalletti, in 1960, the family moved to Paris, where her father worked for NATO as a lawyer and she attended Pershing Hall School. “It was in Paris that it all began,” she recalls. “We had wonderful art classes, and my mother was invited to all the défilés—Lanvin, Dior…. I would sit and watch the shows. Paris was quite exciting in those years.” Immersion in this creative milieu, from infancy through her formative years, stimulated her development as an artist. “Paris, and the atmosphere in which I grew up—the house was filled with paintings, family portraits, sculptures—greatly influenced me.” Among the experiences that have remained with her from that memorable period is engaging in debate with the fashion editor of the Herald Tribune outside the American Church in Paris. “It was a very stimulating life.”

The family returned to Bologna in the late ’60s, but Maria Poggi Cavalletti never stopped painting. At the age of 17 she enrolled in a private art school and earned her first degree in art at 18. She subsequently studied fashion design and worked in that field, freelancing as a dress designer for several firms of expensive prêt-à-porter, her clients including Capucine and Diana D’Este.

Giulia Martinengo Marquet with Athletica, 2012.

Oil on canvas, 150 cm x 100 cm

(Courtesy of Maria Poggi Cavalletti)

After years of intense activity in the world of fashion, Maria Poggi Cavalletti turned her attention to restoring paintings and interior décor, receiving her first degree in painting restoration with a thesis entitled “Vanity: dialogo tra arte e moda” (“Vanity: Dialog Between Art and Fashion”). It is a field that demands a great measure of patience and skill in a variety of mediums, it “means working with many techniques, watercolor, tempera, oil, earth colors, removing, adding, gluing.” Intrigued by “time…the signs of time, decadence…Naples, ruins,” as a restorer she peels back the ravages of time to reveal her subject as it was originally recorded.


But as a portraitist, her aim is to convey an impression of a fleeting moment in time, to preserve it for posterity. Mostly done on commission, her portraits are full-size figures in motion rendered in oil. “I love oil,” she stresses. “I paint using lavender oil and I layer my colors.” Although she has employed many different techniques and mediums, even mixing them in a single work, oil paints, she finds, “are extremely suitable for what I aim to achieve; their use can be changed, mixed and experimented.” Portraits by Maria Poggi Cavalletti are informed by the sum total of her career as an artist. “I believe one learns from everything,” she remarks, “and at a certain point, I was no longer scared of being a painter or scared by the size of the empty canvas.” Even something so seemingly disparate as dress design has contributed to her work as a painter. “My work in fashion has been very important in the development of my present work. To design a collection meant hours of drawing and careful attention for inspiration; all the portraits from Sargent’s Madame X, the black dress, the dress of Lucrezia de Medici by Bronzino…. Catalogues and photographs show and teach you what is beautiful in the movement and composition of the page.”

In each of her portraits, Maria Poggi Cavalletti seeks to capture the essence of her subject. “I think it impossible not to be influenced by a subject. I always interpret the person I am painting, and often people see in their portraits what they had not been able to see in themselves before.” (Channeling Oscar Wilde, she avers, “I wish my portraits could influence them!”) To achieve the desired effect, “the technique used is often the same, but for each of my portraits I want to transmit the personality, the mood of the subject; and this is why I feel that my subjects have to be painted full length, their body, their movement—not only their face—expresses their character.” Indeed, elements extraneous to, albeit representing an aspect of the human subject may be employed to this end. For her recent show at the equestrian centre in Milan, for example, she selected a special subject: renowned equestrienne and Olympics champion Giulia Martinengo Marquet…with her famous mare, Athletica. Her technique, in turn, is influenced by what she represents. “Technique is one of my main interests, it is what sets a painting in context.” It is also important to bear in mind that “a portrait must also be recognized as an historic value for the family, like crest mottos.”

Maria Poggi Cavalletti prepares by taking many photographs and executing watercolor sketches of her subjects in an effort “to catch their mood, their personality. When I close my eyes, I actually see the person.” She normally paints in her studio, where she makes many preliminary sketches. On location, she chooses pose and setting, and prepares small studies. “Before starting the portrait,” she elaborates, “I try to imagine how I would like to represent the person. I make a drawing of the pose. For all portraits, I thoroughly research from recent photographs.” However, “after having met the subject many times, everything can change. We chat a lot and I stay until I catch a glance, a special pose, until I find the character. I would say this emerges as we work together.”

Maria, 2013

Oil on canvas, 120cm x 80 cm

(Courtesy of Maria Poggi Cavalletti)

Maria Poggi Cavalletti exhibits her work frequently, mostly in public venues.​

(Click on any image to enlarge)

As of this writing, she plans to be represented in two exhibitions this spring and summer:


Peonia in Bloom (Art and Decoration in Antique Gardens)

May 22-23, 6-9 p.m.

via Braina 11, Bologna, Italy



July 27-August 4

(Opening July 27, 7 p.m.)

Casa Cagliostro, Marciana Marina, Elba Island, Italy 

bottom of page