Renaissance history begins in the 15th century in northern Europe and Venice. Before the Renaissance, the artist was an artisan. After the Renaissance, the artist was an aristocrat, or at least welcome in the aristocracy. The genius of da Vinci and Michelangelo and Raphael and Durer, and a better understanding of perspective led to more realistic drawings and paintings. It has been said by David Hockney and others that the invention of the lens and the curved mirror led to a crude form of projection which enable the Renaissance artists to become the photographers of their day and enabled the beginnings of portrait art.
The Renaissance is the time that trade with the East greatly influence the culture of Europe. It is a time of new colors in ceramics, and in art. We all know of the Mona Lisa but we should all study the drawings of Raphael, in the form and color of Titian. The Renaissance is a time of the awakening of science and the challenging of new ideas. After the Middle Ages, it is known as the awakening as Europe emerges from centuries of the plague with the low population and opportunity.
for a better look at the Renaissance as it relates to art, and also pages on 56 Renaissance artists, go here
For a history try History World