Learning Curve: Italy’s great women artists - online

11 November 2021 - 28 January 2022 -
When we think of Italian art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we celebrate great men: Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio. But alongside these men were accomplished women whose work was celebrated, critiqued and sought-after. Some of these “Old Mistresses” – such as Artemisia Gentileschi – are now household names, while others, like Plautilla Nelli, Lavinia Fontana and Giovanna Garzoni, are just beginning to receive their due again.

Discover the careers of women artists from Naples to Rome, Florence, Bologna and Venice, exploring why we have heard so little about them, how much of their work survives, and what conditions they worked under.

Dr Kathleen Olive has a PhD in Italian Studies from the University of Sydney, where she taught Italian language, literature and history for a number of years. Her particular area of expertise is fifteenth-century artisans and their writings, and her edition, with Professor Nerida Newbigin, of the celebrated Codice Rustici was the official gift of the Florentine Curia to Pope Francis on his first visit to Florence in 2015. For more than fifteen years, Kathleen has led cultural tours to Europe, Japan and the USA, with a focus on Italy, and she is well known for her lectures on art at WEA, Sydney, the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (ADFAS), and the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney. Kathleen is currently Head of Product at Renaissance Tours.

Lecture Program

Lecture 1 - Women’s art as a profession from the Renaissance to the Baroque

In sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy, a quiet revolution changed art-makers’ social status. No longer considered ‘mere’ artisans, they were increasingly celebrated for ingenuity and a mercurial spirit as much as for dedicated professionalism. But how did women artists balance this male world of reputation, workshops and legal contracts alongside their family obligations?

Lecture 2 - Sixteenth-century pioneers in Florence and Bologna

In his monumental Lives of the Italian Artists, sixteenth-century art historian Giorgio Vasari eulogised Italian painters and sculptors from the Dark Ages to his era. Meet the two women included in the second edition of his work: painter Plautilla Nelli, a Florentine nun, and trouble-making sculptor Properzia de’ Rossi of Bologna.

Lecture 3 - Women and the emergence of still life painting

From the end of the sixteenth-century, European artists and their patrons became interested in depicting commonplace and natural objects in thoughtful arrangements, and natura morta, or still life, was considered particularly appropriate for women artists. Discover the stunning work of Fede Galizia and Giovanna Garzoni, widely commissioned by Europe’s courtly rulers.

Lecture 4 - Painting people

For sixteenth and seventeenth-century European painters, there was a definite hierarchy in subject matter. Portraiture, which engages modern audiences at prize events like the Archibald, was thought to require less innovation, and women artists such as Lavinia Fontana stepped into this gap to exploit commercial demand for aristocratic likenesses.

Lecture 5 - Women and history painting

For Renaissance and Baroque painters in Italy, narrative history paintings were the top of the pops, requiring all of an artist’s scholarly learning, ability to conjure dramatic action, and compositional ingenuity. Appreciate how Artemisia Gentileschi broke into this male-dominated field, dramatising the lives of female saints and tales of ancient heroines.

Lecture 6 - New media and the Academy

In 1615, Artemisia Gentileschi became the first woman to join an art academy and took the first step in the journey of women artists’ official professional recognition. Discover successive generations of women artists in Italy – from Rosalba Carriera in Venice to Angelica Kauffman in Rome – who paved the way with their innovations in media, technique and genre.

Proudly sponsored by Arab Bank & Sir William Dobell Art Foundation

Booking instructions:

Online ticketing information

*Bookings can be made up until 5pm Friday 28 January 2022
*Upon booking, ticket holders will receive a link to the online lecture via email. There is no view limit on the lecture, however it will be accessible only until 5pm Monday 31 January 2022.
*Upon clicking the link, you will be directed to the Gallery’s website to access the lecture
*Please ensure you have a good internet connection to facilitate a quality viewing experience

Online ticketing terms and conditions

*The link provided to you is not to be shared or sold on. Your booking constitutes one ticket.
*The Art Gallery Society does not take responsibility for any technical difficulties experienced due to personal device failure and will not issue refunds in this situation
*The link to the lecture will only be available until 5pm Monday 31 January 2022. If you miss this viewing window, the Art Gallery Society will not issue refunds in this situation

If purchasing tickets on behalf of other attendees, the ticket purchaser is responsible for communicating all correspondence from the Art Gallery Society of NSW to those attendees.

Member - full series (6 lectures)

Non member - full series (6 lectures)