The period of the Renaissance (14th and 16th centuries) brought with it many important changes in the social and cultural position of the artist. Over the course of the period there is a steady rise in the status of the painter, sculptor, and architect and a growing sympathy expressed for the visual arts. Painters and sculptors made a concerted effort to extricate themselves from their medieval heritage and to distinguish themselves from mere craftsmen.
At the beginning of the Renaissance, painters and sculptors were still regarded as members of the artisan class, and occupied a low rung on the social ladder. A shift begins to occur in the 14th century when painting, sculpture, and architecture began to form a group separate from the mechanical arts. In the 15th century, the training of a painter was expected to include knowledge of mathematical perspective, optics, geometry, and anatomy.
A major development in the Renaissance is the new emphasis on the realistic description of figures and objects in painting and sculpture. The call to "imitate nature" involved an almost scientific examination of optical phenomena. In order to make figures and objects appear three-dimensional, forms were "modeled" employing the optical principles of light and shade. These correctly rendered three-dimensional figures and objects were placed in a three-dimensional illusionistic space created through the newly developed device of linear perspective.
The knowledge and use of scientific methods placed painting and sculpture on a new basis that was intellectual, theoretical, literary, and scientific. Painters and sculptors could now claim that their profession required intellectual ability and knowledge. This permitted the claim that they were superior to mere craftsmen, and that painting and sculpture should be recognized as liberal arts.