Starting in the 14th century, the Renaissance period was a catalyst for a change in education. During the Middle Ages, the emphasis in education of the medieval scholastics was on theology and spiritual pursuits, and man was viewed as inherently unworthy as a result of the stain of original sin. In sharp contrast, Renaissance humanist educators revived the study of the classics and stressed the importance of the individual. Indeed, the ideal Renaissance man was cultured and well versed in the classics, humanities, and moral philosophy, as well as skilled with the sword and horse. After challenging the medieval scholastic focus on theology, the values and purposes of a Renaissance education transformed over time from educating a virtuous, well rounded, upper class Renaissance man who was learned in the classics and humanities to educating a man who attained knowledge for practical purposes and exemplified the Renaissance values of wisdom, morality, and virtue.
At the beginning of the Renaissance, humanist educators revived the study of the classics and humanities to help students attain salvation. Humanist educators rejected medieval scholasticism, a system of thought in which clerics applied reason to theological and philosophical questions. Humanists believed that the study of humanities was essential for the education of a good citizen. During the classical era, the Romans had placed great emphasis on the values of wisdom and virtue, a concept which they referred to as humanitas. Eventually, the term humanities came to refer to the seven liberal arts of antiquity which included arithmetic, grammar, logic, astronomy, geometry, music and rhetoric. Early Renaissance Italian humanists such as Battista Guarino and Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini asserted that a man must study the humanities to acquire virtue and to attain enlightenment. Likewise, Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian diplomat and author, instructed modern Renaissance gentleman in The Book of the Courtier to become learned in a wide variety of subjects including the humanities, classical poetry, and in writing verse and prose.