The Renaissance movement, whose influence originated in Italy, spread throughout Poland roughly in the 15th and 16th century. Many Italian artists arrived in the country welcomed by Polish royalty, including Francesco Fiorentino, Bartholommeo Berecci, Santi Gucci, Mateo Gucci, Bernardo Morando, Giovanni Battista di Quadro and others, including thinkers and educators such as Filip Callimachus, merchants such as the Boner family and the Montelupi family, and other prominent personalities who immigrated to Poland since the late 15th century in search of new opportunities. Most of them settled in Kraków, the Polish capital until 1611.
The Renaissance values of the dignity of man and power of his reason were applauded in Poland. Many works were translated into Polish and Latin from classical Latin, Greek and Hebrew, as well as contemporary languages like Italian. The Cracow Academy, one of the world's oldest universities, enjoyed its Golden Era between 1500 and 1535, with 3,215 students graduating in the first decade of the 16th century – a record not surpassed until the late 18th century. The period of Polish Renaissance, supportive of intellectual pursuits, produced many outstanding artists and scientists. Among them were Nicolaus Copernicus who in his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium presented the heliocentric theory of the universe, Maciej of Miechów, author of Tractatus de duabus Sarmatis... – the most accurate up to date geographical and ethnographical account of Eastern Europe; Bernard Wapowski, a cartographer whose maps of that region appeared in Ptolemy's Geography; Marcin Kromer who in his De origine et rebus gestis Polonorum libri... described both the history and geography of Poland; Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, a philosopher concerned with governance; Mikołaj Rej who has popularized the use of Polish language in poetry; and Jan Kochanowski, whose poems in Polish language elevated him to the ranks of the most prominent Slavic poets.
Young Poles, especially sons of nobility (szlachta), who graduated from any one of over 2,500 parish schools, gymnasiums and several academies (Cracow Academy, Wilno Academy, Zamość Academy), often traveled abroad to complete their education. Polish thinkers, like Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Johannes Dantiscus or Jan Łaski maintained contacts with leading European philosophers of the Renaissance, such as Thomas More, Erasmus and Philip Melanchthon. Poland not only partook in the exchange of major cultural and scientific ideas and developments of Western Europe, but also spread Western heritage eastwards among East Slavic nations. For example, printing process, Latin language and art with the syllabic versification in poetry, especially in Belarus and Ukraine (through Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), from where it was transmitted to Russia (Duchy of Moscow), which began to increase its ties with western Europe in the aftermath of the Mongol invasion of Rus. The first four printed Cyrillic books in the world were published in Kraków, in 1491, by printer Szwajpolt Fiol.
Incentives for development of art and architecture were many. King Sigismund I the Old, who ascended to the throne in 1507, was a sponsor of many artists, and begun a major project - under Florence architect Bartolommeo Berrecci - of remaking the ancient residence of the Polish kings, the Wawel Castle, into a modern Renaissance residence. Sigismund's zeal for Renaissance was matched not only by his son, Sigismund II Augustus, but by many wealthy nobles and burghers who also desired to display their wealth, influence and cultural savvy. In 1578, chancellor Jan Zamoyski begun construction of the ideal Renaissance city, sponsoring the creation of Zamość (a city named after him), which soon became an important administrative, commercial and educational town of Renaissance Poland. Two largest contemporary Polish cities - Kraków (which attracted many Italian architects) and Gdańsk (which attracted mostly architects from Germany and the Netherlands) - likely gained the most in the era, but many other cities also spotted new Renaissance constructions.
Renaissance painting was introduced in Poland by many immigrant artists, like Lucas Cranach, Hans Dürer and Hans von Kulmbach, and practiced by such Polish painters as Marcin Kober (a court painter of king Stefan Batory). The works of the portraitists created an impressive gallery, particularly representative of those who could afford to be immortalized in them.