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 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
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