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"great period of revival of classical-based art and learning in Europe that began in the fourteenth century," 1840, from French renaissance des lettres, from Old French renaissance, literally "rebirth," usually in a spiritual sense, from renastre "grow anew" (of plants), "be reborn" (Modern French renaître), from Vulgar Latin *renascere, from Latin renasci "be born again, rise again, reappear, be renewed," from re- "again" (see re-) + nasci "be born" (Old Latin gnasci; see genus).
An earlier term for it was revival of learning (1785). In general usage, with a lower-case r-, "a revival" of anything that has long been in decay or disuse (especially of learning, literature, art), it is attested from 1872. Renaissance man is first recorded 1906.
The cultural rebirth that occurred in Europe from roughly the fourteenth through the middle of the seventeenth centuries, based on the rediscovery of the literature of Greece and Rome. During the Renaissance, America was discovered, and the Reformation began; modern times are often considered to have begun with the Renaissance. Major figures of the Renaissance include Galileo, William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Renaissance means “rebirth” or “reawakening.”
Note: The term renaissance is often used to describe any revival or rediscovery.