The term Proto-Renaissance, first coined by the Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt, denotes the period in northern Italian art from (roughly) 1150-1400. Artistic developments in this area, during these years, weren't quite Romanesque, or Gothic, but have come to be classified as precursors to the Renaissance itself. Proto-Renaissance, in Italy was a time of great social and artistic change. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Italy saw a tremendous growth of cities, the expansion of trade, a rise in the numbers and power of the middle class, and increasing humanization of religion.

The Franciscan sect, particularly, had a profound impact on artists of the time because of its emphasis on the beauty of observable nature and the concept that knowledge could be obtained through direct observation. The proximity of Rome and the Church's influence on all aspects of Italian culture, meant that Italian art was dominated by religious painting and architecture.