Were there any and, if so, why do we hear so little about them?

What kind of art might they have created, and under what conditions?

The Italian Institute of Culture in Sydney is set to host a new course exploring Italian women artists, beginning with the 16th-century artists of Florence and Bologna, so greatly influenced by the masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo who had preceded them.

Florentine nun Suor Plautilla Nelli produced her works in the cloistered environment of a convent.

Roman-born Artemisia Gentileschi grew up learning painting from her father Orazio, who was a close friend of Caravaggio.

In 1611, Gentileschi was raped by an artist, Agostino Tassi, who had been hired to teach her perspective.

Gentileschi endured public humiliation and torture during a six-month trial in which she actively participated in the prosecution of her rapist.

These events have long overshadowed Gentileschi’s mastery of expressive Baroque painting.

In an era when female painters were not easily accepted by the artistic community or patrons, Gentileschi was the first woman to be accepted as a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence and sell her paintings to an international market.

The course will trace the lives of these women, and others, through archival documents and contemporary descriptions of their work, whether their surviving masterpieces or those paintings left to languish, forgotten, in museum storage facilities.

Participants will gain an insight into the daily lives of Italian women in the 16th and 17th centuries, from the difficulties of balancing family life and the demands of a career, through to the potential for an education and even legal struggles due to marital problems or assault.

The current international interest in celebrating their careers will also be examined, including recent documentaries and the work of Jane Fortune’s Advancing Women Artists Foundation in Florence.

The lectures will be held in English, with the first session on June 11, dicussing the contexts of women’s lives in the 16th century in terms of family, education and the professional sphere, as well as Suor Plautilla Nelli’s art production.

For the full program, visit the IIC’s website.