The Seicento witnessed a remarkable expansion of the female monastery throughout Italy, and in particular in Lombardy. In the mid-17th century, there were more than 6000 nuns in the Milanese diocese. These women were members of the patrician classes, especially in the better convents, and indeed monastic life was by far the more likely future for an upper-class girl. Moreover, the institution of clausura, or complete and total enclosure, instituted with the Council of Trent in 1563, vastly limited nearly all contact between these women and the outside world. Thus, not surprisingly, music was an essential part of these women’s lives, their "voice" in the world in a very literal sense. In addition, it should be pointed out that the musical chapels in the convents were secondary in neither size nor quality to those in male institutions; indeed, following the 1630 plague (which killed around a third of the general population and two-thirds of the male clergy), nuns’ musical chapels were the largest and most important in Milan (ironically, clausura had served to protect the sisters from contagion). And this, despite the many restrictions governing music-making inside the convents imposed by the ecclesiastical authorities. The great difficulty which these musical nuns encountered is reflected perhaps above all in the fact that so little music has come down to us: in the case of Lombardy, one can count a mere eight nuns whose published works are extant (the printed works of certain nun composers have been lost over time, while others were undoubtedly never published).
This series includes works of various nun composers from Lombardy. Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c. 1677), from the important musical convent in Milan of Santa Radegonda. was the author of four editions of sacred works published between 1640 and 1650, unfortunately not all of them extant. Bianca Maria Meda, a nun at the Benedictine house of San Martino del Leano, published a book of Motetti a 1-4 voci (Bologna, 1691). Maria Xaveria Perucona (or Parruccona), from the Ursuline convent at Galliate (near Novara), was called eccellente Maestra di Musica, non che stimabile cantatrice, but she is known only for her Sacri concerti de Motetti (Milan, 1675).