The French term Renaissance means "rebirth" and applied to the intellectual and artistic movement which originated in Italy in the 14th century. It was basically a revival of classical learning and thought. We do need to clarify that the Renaissance was also a social, scientific, political, and economic movement that permeated all facets of life and thought. However, in this forum we will only discuss the artistic elements of this amazing time which produced some of mans most masterful creations.
The renaissance had a few distinct phases, the first of which is fittingly called the Early Renaissance. This era spanned the late 1300's through 1500. In the early 14th century Giotto was transforming painting from the Byzantine stylizations to what we now regard as the central tradition of Western painting. The other period of the renaissance that holds tremendous importance is called the High Renaissance, and pertains to the brief period between 1500 and 1530. In retrospect this time is seen as the fulfillment of the Renaissance ideals. The quest that began with Giotto was achieved through the works of the High Renaissance's major players, Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Michelangelo.
The Northern Renaissance is difficult to attach specific dates to, but was the most far-reaching of the period at the time. The Northern Renaissance describes the period during which Italian ideals and renaissance imagery diffused its way into the rest of Europe.
The Renaissance movement led into the enlightenment which was a amazing time for modern civilization. Nevertheless, the Renaissance was never overshadowed by what followed. The developments and artistic creations that were spawned by the Renaissance remain some of the greatest masterpieces of all time. From Da Vinci's smiling "Mona Lisa" to Michelangelo's imposing "David", the Renaissance and the art it produced will forever remain an high point for mankind.