The Renaissance was the period in history stretching from the beginning of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century, or from about 1400 to 1600. It was a time when a lot of progress was made in art, science and literature. Renaissance actually means 'Re-birth'. This refers to the fact that artists, scientists and writers thought that learning and scholarship had been born again in the Renaissance after the period of the Middle Ages when they thought that nothing worthwhile had happened. One of the most important things that scholars did in the Renaissance was rediscover ancient Greek and Latin books that had been unknown during the Middle Ages.

The Renaissance started in Italy and only gradually spread to the rest of Europe. The city of Florence in Italy was the most important place in the Renaissance. A family called the Medici lived in Florence. They were very rich bankers and merchants and could afford to spend lots of money to pay artists to create beautiful works of art for them. They employed artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael to paint their palaces and carve statues.

Although most art historians tend to forget it, the Renaissance was also a very important time of progress in science, especially in maths. Ancient Greek maths books were rediscovered by scholars from Florence. Maths was also applied to many practical tasks in new ways. For example, mathematical rules were used by engineers to help them built bigger buildings. The Cathedral in Florence had an enormous dome put on it, built by the engineer Brunelleschi. Brunelleschi was only able to built this dome because he had read newly discovered books written by the Roman architect Vitruvius. Vitruvius showed how mathematical principles could be applied to building. The Renaissance was a boom time for makers of mathematical instruments as well. They devised many new, complicated, beautiful instruments that used maths and sold them to rich people like the Medici. The Museum of the History of Science in Florence is full of mathematical instruments made for the Medici family.