The Renaissance was one of the most significant periods in human history, a cultural movement most often referenced as having spanned the 14th to 17th centuries A.D. In considering the sweeping change of the Renaissance it is essential to understand the era immediately preceding the evolution of the period, the Middle Ages, during which the individual focus of existence was controlled largely by the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. The name of the area now known as Europe was actually called Christendom. The individual focus was on God, by order of the Church. The Roman Catholic Church also functioned as the legal system.
The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) had swept Europe between 1348 and 1350 leaving one-fourth of the population dead, and was particularly devastating in Italy where nearly half died. The Plague had significant philosophical, spiritual and economic impacts on people's day-to-day lives.
The Renaissance period actually began in the 14th century with the printing of the poems of Francesco Petrarch. His work was very popular in Italy, and Florence is generally considered home of the birth of the Renaissance. Credit for the advancement of the Renaissance and the ideas included should be given most directly to Italy's most prominent family, de Medici, and to Catherine de Medici, in particular. France was also instrumental in the shift from man's focus on living for God toward returning to the teachings of the Greek classics that focused on individual happiness in this lifetime. Humanism, individualism and secularism became the collective focus of the time.
Art, music, literature and rational thought replaced the redundant requirements of the Holy Roman Empire and the Inquisition, as the idea that the populace should have a say in the determination of government and individual life became dominant. The Renaissance blossomed in the 15th century with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press.
The industrial capacity to print would eventually change the world, ushering in the period of Enlightenment. Martin Luther was the first to utilize the press by publication of his writings protesting the exclusive teachings and requirements of the Catholic Church, and hence the ruling authorities, leading to what is now known as the Protestant Reformation. The Bible was also subject to mass publication in various vernaculars. This combination would change religious history. The focus on art, science, architecture and literature would eventually change world history.
The Renaissance is associated with prolific figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Salutati, Mirandola, Erasmus, Masaccio and Michelangelo. Nostradamus may be the most often contemporarily discussed individual of the Renaissance. Christopher Columbus is also of note in the fields of geography and exploration, particularly in history textbooks in the United States of America.
Though he is not necessarily associated with the primary Renaissance movement, the compositions of William Shakespeare were also completed during this era. There is controversy surrounding who Shakespeare actually was, but his contributions to literature cannot be overlooked from the aspect of the era's increasing individual thought and focus.
Political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli also published The Prince during the Renaissance era, written as a guide to public administrators of the day. Machiavelli's principle tenet of government and power was that the "ends justifies the means," the implementation of which has led to many wars and revolutions since that time period. It eventually led to his personal demise at the hands of the de Medici family.
The impact of the Renaissance on human history can still be seen as prevalent in contemporary society, as the cyber revolution is well underway and shows no signs of slowing down without an interventional return to Machiavelli's primary tenet − any means is acceptable to achieve desired ends.
Power was of central importance during that time just as today, as the political and financial power grid eroded with the individual exchange of information and ideas, especially via the Gutenberg Press, just as the contemporary grid is eroding today via the individual publication power of the Internet Reformation.