The term renaissance, describing the period of European history from the early 14th to the late 16th century, is derived from the French word 'rebirth'. This period is described as the revival of the classical forms originally developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and an intensified concern with the secular life--interest in humanism and assertion of the importance of the individual. The renaissance period in art history corresponds to the beginning of the great western age of discovery and exploration, when a general desire developed to examine all aspects of nature and the world. Art, during this period, became valued -- not merely as a vehicle for religious and social identity, but even more as a mode of personal, aesthetic expression.
The term early renaissance characterizes virtually all the art of the 15th century. Early renaissance artist sought to create art forms consistent with the appearance of the natural world and with their experience of human personality and behavior. These artists made an effort to go beyond straightforward transcription of nature, to instill the work of art with ideal, intangible qualities, endowing it with a beauty and significance greater and more permanent than that actually found in nature. Artists such as Donatello in sculpture, Masaccio in painting and Fillipo Brunelleschi in architecture were part of this period. Masaccio for instance gave figures the ?illusion? of live beings when characters and reactions were individualized. He also made use of perspective by exploring linear (a vanishing point), and atmospheric perspective (effects produced from a single light source). He also made use of gradations or light and darkness (Chiaroscuro) to give illusions of weight, substance and bulk to the bodies.