The first Chilean writer was the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia himself, who in his Letters to Carlos I described the occupied land with admiration. The most cultivated literary genres during the colonial period were chronicles and epic poems. Of the latter, the most notable was Alonso de Ercilla’s La Araucana (Araucana), which dealt with wars between Indians and Spaniards, and which constituted a model for Chilean literature throughout its history. Jesuits Alonso de Ovalle and Diego de Rosales stand out as representatives of the chronicle of the 17th century. Francisco Núñez de Pineda showed in Cautiverio feliz (Happy captivity), his sympathy for the Araucans, which meant the beginning of one of the most accentuated trends in Chilean literature, indigenism.
After independence, Andrés Bello, of Venezuelan origin, started national nativist literature, a movement that would be followed by several writers during the 19th century. The anti-Hispanicism of some of them led them to follow French or German models, as is the case with Guillermo Matta, while others were influenced by the romanticism of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, like Eduardo de la Barra. One of the main novelists of the century was Alberto Blest, who belongs to the chain of realism. In poetry, Carlos Pezoa and José Joaquín Vallejo stood out, much influenced by the Spanish Mariano José de Larra.
In the 20th century, three great poets are noted: Vicente Huidobro, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. Huidobro participated in the European avant-garde and encouraged creationism, while Gabriela Mistral and Neruda represented the expression of Chileanity in poetry; both received the Nobel Prize.
In prose, Mariano Latorre was the master of Chilean descriptive literature and leader of the Creole school. Francisco Coloane, Manuel Rojas, José Donoso, Jorge Guzmán and Lautaro Yankas also stand out.
The influence of Tiahuanaco and, later, of the Inca empire, formed the art and culture of the pre-Columbian peoples of northern Chile, such as the Diaguitas and the attackers. In the center and south, the Araucans stood out for the elaboration of masks and sculptures carved in stone. It is worth noting, for its originality, the art of Easter Island, represented by the monumentality of the famous heads carved in stone and by the delicacy of some small wooden sculptures.
The monuments of the colonial period are not very expressive and many of them were destroyed by fires or earthquakes, like the primitive cathedral of Santiago. In the capital, the only monument that preserves the original layout is the São Francisco church, built in the 16th century. From the 17th century there are still some Spanish style palaces and houses with small internal patios. The presidential palace, former Casa da Moeda, a mixture of baroque and neoclassical, was built by the Italian Joaquín Toesca at the end of the 18th century. In the 19th century, the French Raymond Monvoisin and Claude-François Brunst de Bains erected important buildings in Santiago and gave impetus to their School of Architecture. In addition to other foreign architects, Fermín Vivaceta and Manuel Aldunate contributed to reinforcing the national character of Chilean architecture. In the 20th century, the works of the group of Ten and Emilio Duhart, author of the college of the French Alliance, stood out. Other important architects were Sergio Larraín, Jaime Bellalta and Jorge Costábal.
Chilean national painting began with José Gil de Castro, during the period of independence. Several styles and trends followed each other until the third decade of the twentieth century, when the work of the Montparnasse group was developed, under the influence of Paul Cézanne. Subsequently, Chilean painting reached international prominence with the work of Roberto Matta. Other outstanding painters were José Balmes, Elsa Bolívar, Cecilia Vicuña, Eduardo Martínez Bonatti, Ramón Vergara, Ernesto Barreda and Carmen Silva. In the music of the 20th century, the popular singer Violeta Parra and the pianist Claudio Arrau stand out.
Spanish colonization introduced Catholicism, which quickly became the predominant religion. With Pedro de Valdivia, Chaplain Rodrigo González de Marmolejo disembarked in Chile, who started evangelization. In 1550 the religious of the Order of Nossa Senhora das Mercês arrived and, shortly afterwards, the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits, who founded several schools.
In 1818, after independence, Catholicism was recognized as the state’s official religion. From 1878, however, several governments undertook a secular campaign that culminated in the 1925 constitution, which established the separation of church and state.
Although the majority of the Chilean population is Catholic, there is an important Protestant colony (the largest group being that of the Evangelical Church), which entered the country during the European penetration of the 19th century. In northern Chile, a sector of the indigenous population follows religious traditions of the animistic type.