The classes, which were originally scheduled to begin in June, will run every Tuesday from July 23 for five weeks in two-hour sessions.
Olive said that the classes will explore the best known women artists of the Italian Renaissance and their contexts, from the idea of “women working behind closed doors, like nuns, women working in the public sphere, to women who were trained in a family tradition, or those who embarked in a career as an artist without any family background”.
She said that while many female artists of the Renaissance period were successful at the time, they have flown somewhat under the radar in contemporary society due to a skewed historical perspective.
“We’ve talked about the Italian Renaissance for hundreds of years and how important it was, but we’ve never really talked about what happened to women in the Renaissance,” Olive pointed out.
“Did the same kind of cultural flowering happen for them as well?”
She said that there is renewed interest in the subject thanks to a greater interest in general in “neglected histories” outside of the upper-class, male echelons of society, including children, sexual minorities and women.
One of the artists Olive will discuss, Plautilla Nelli, is the oldest example of a professional woman artist from the Renaissance.
Historians are only now discovering more about her and her works.
“She was actually a nun, she lived in a convent in Florence in Piazza San Marco,” Olive said.
She added that women in convents did continue work on professional activities, such as with gold thread and embroidery, writing plays for amateur and professional performance, and in Nelli’s case, working as artists.
Nelli took commissions from religious institutions and painted inside the convent, as it became increasingly difficult for nuns to participate in public life due to clausura: pressure to remain cut-off from public life for their own “moral protection”.
Another female artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, rose to fame after training under her artist father.
Gentileschi was renowned for her Caravaggio-esque paintings, which often depict women seeking violent revenge against men who try to overcome them.
Historians have traced the subject matter to Gentileschi’s troubled youth, in which she was raped by an associate artist.
Despite her youthful trauma, Gentileschi nevertheless had a high-profile career.
“Her reputation grew and grew and actually succeeded her father’s reputation in her own time,” Olive said.
Olive’s own interest in Italy started at just thirteen years old, when she began learning Italian.
She has a PhD in Florentine Renaissance studies from the University of Sydney, and has taught Italian language, literature and history at various universities.
Olive said that by learning from the past we can learn about our present as well.
“There’s still a lot of discussion even today about the role of women artists in the contemporary art world,” she said.
“They are less represented in museums; their work sells for lower prices than the work of famous contemporary male artists.
“I think that by looking at the past careers of professional women artists, we can perhaps learn a little bit more about our attitude to women artists in our own time.
“That would be the thing that I hope people take from the course.”
For the full program, visit the IIC website.