In the arts and sciences as well as society and government, Italy was the major catalyst for progress during the Renaissance: the rich period of development that occurred in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. Because of the number of different fields in which it applied, ``Renaissance'' is a word with many layers of meaning. Accordingly, Renaissance painting cannot signify any one common or clearly definable style. As Gothic painting had been shaped by the feudal societies of the Middle Ages, with its roots in the Romanesque and Byzantine traditions, Renaissance art was born out of a new, rapidly evolving civilization. It marked the point of departure from the medieval to the modern world and, as such, laid the foundations for modern Western values and society.
The Renaissance in Italy started gradually, its beginnings being apparent even in Giotto's work, a century before Masaccio was active. The quest for scientific precision and greater realism culminated in the superb balance of harmony of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. The influence of Humanism is reflected in the increase of secular subjects. In the final phase of the Renaissance, Mannerism became the dominant style.