Ecuadorans claim Atahualpa (1500?–33), the last emperor of the Incas, as the first renowned figure in their country's history; during the civil war between him and his half-brother, Huáscar, his administration of the Inca empire was based in what is now Ecuador. The 16th-century Amerindian general Rumiñahui is remembered for his heroic resistance to Spanish conquest. During the colonial period, Quito produced notable artists and sculptors. Among these were Miguel de Santiago (d.1673) and the Amerindians Manuel Chile (Caspicara) and Pampite. Francisco Javier Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo (1747–95), the national hero of Ecuador, inspired much of the independence movement through his political writings. Espejo advocated complete emancipation from Spain, autonomous government for each colony, and nationalization of the clergy. Although he did not live to take part in the War of Independence (he died in prison for his political activities), he was an important figure in its philosophical development.
Vicente Rocafuerte (1783–1847), an early president, made significant contributions to the development of the republic. Another president, Gabriel García Moreno (1821–75), was the first to achieve national consolidation; he also contributed to the literary development of the nation. Juan Montalvo (1823–89) bitterly and brilliantly opposed conservatism in his essays and other works. Eloy Alfaro (1841–1912), another outstanding president, was noted for the honesty of his administration.
Among Ecuador's literary figures were Numa Pompilio Llona (1832–1907), a poet-philosopher, and Juan de León Mera (1832–94), a poet and novelist. Outstanding Ecuadorans of the 20th century include the poets Gonzalo Escudero (1903–71), Jorge Carrera Andrade (1903–78), César Dávila Andrade (1918–67), and Benjamín Carrión (1897–1979); the novelist Jorge Icaza (1906–78); the painter Oswaldo Guayasamin Calero (b. 1919); José María Velasco Ibarra (1893–1979), who served five times as president of his country; and Galo Plaza Lasso (1906–87), a former president of Ecuador and of the OAS.