The Renaissance—a term meaning rebirth or revival—was an era of transformation in the art and culture of Italy between 1400 and 1600. There was a renewed appreciation of Classical Antiquity, especially ancient Greco-Roman art and architecture, literature and science. The study of ancient texts was the basis for the development of the humanities: history, poetry and philosophy. The Renaissance was also a period of inquiry into the natural world, of experiment and exploration in the arts and sciences. New technologies such as the printing press, gunpowder, watches and lenses, as well as the exploration of the New World, helped to transform Renaissance society and led to the birth of modern Europe.

While the Catholic Church had always been the great patron of the arts in Western Europe, during the Renaissance there was a tremendous expansion of private patronage by merchants and noble families, such as the Medici in Florence and the Sforza in Milan. Great centres arose, notably the courts of Mantua and Ferrara, the republics of Florence and Venice, and the Papal States including Rome and Perugia. This ever changing patchwork of city-states and regions became the unified nation of Italy only 150 years ago.