Beginning early in the 14th century, the western world, which did not include the Americas, was just coming back to intellectual life. While leaving the middle ages behind, a cultural movement known to us as the Renaissance was taking hold in Europe. During the next two centuries there would be a proliferation of ideas in the areas of philosophy, religion, literature, music, art and science. Inventions such as the printing press would help to spread these new ideas. This period would lay the groundwork that would eventually lead to our modern age.
The word Renaissance roughly translates to mean "a rebirth"; that is, a rebirth and awakening of the classical traditions, but with new sensibilities. This was especially evident in the realism and emotion conveyed by the paintings of the period. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were the most famous artists of the era, but the list is long; Donatello, Botticelli, Barocci, Mantegnal, and Baldovinetti just to name a few. Their paintings were all outstanding because they were laid-out in proper perspective, painted with newly discovered vibrant colors, and their subjects were rendered as anatomically correct.
Just before the end of 16th century, Rome, Italy would again become the center of a new and separate period in the evolution of art; the Baroque. Doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, as a means of reaffirming emotional depths, encouraged this style which emphasized "the dramatic." The effect of exaggerated motion and human expression in paintings of this period convey feelings of enthusiasm, excitement, happiness, sadness, bewilderment and of course, drama. Artists of the Baroque style chose to paint the most exciting aspect of a story, where the calm rationality of the Renaissance artist usually chose to paint the moment just before, or just after an event.
The use of rich color shown against a contrasting dark, shadowy background also adds to the effect of some Baroque paintings. The Dutch painter Rembrant van Rijn (1606-1669) was a master of tonal contrast. Rembrant used a light/dark effect known as "Chiaroscuro," which is evident in the many bible scenes and portraits that he did. Rembrant's biblical paintings displayed such understanding and emotion that he was considered to be a Prophet during his own time.
Of course, the flamboyant Baroque style extended to all of the other arts as well. The architecture of the time was very heavily embellished and was by design a statement of power and wealth. As with the painting of the era, the architecture made use of light and dark contrasts, heavy ornamentation, and over-emphasized features. The music was also more elaborate [than Renaissance music]. During this time composers made many changes in how they approached musical notation, this in turn caused the musicians to develop many new techniques. And, as a direct result of all these advances, "Opera" was born. A combination of almost all the performing arts, Opera tells its story by means of dramatic sets, musical scores, poetry, singing, dancing and acting.