Outstanding political and military figures in Colombian history include Francisco de Paula Santander (1792–1840), who served as a general in the war of independence and was the first president of independent Colombia, and José María Córdoba (1800?–1830), a brilliant young soldier of the war of independence, who was made a general at 22 by Simón Bolívar.
Colombia, famous for its literary figures, has produced three outstanding novelists widely read outside the country: Jorge Isaacs (1837–95), whose most famous work, María, is a novel in the Romantic tradition; José Eustacio Rivera (1880–1929), whose outstanding novel, La Vorágine (The Vortex), written after World War I, is a drama of social rebellion; and Gabriel García Márquez (b.1928), a Nobel Prize winner in 1982, who is best known for Cien años de soledad ( One Hundred Years of Solitude ). Colombia has had a number of noteworthy poets. The 19th-century Romantic school included Julio Arboleda (1814–92), José Eusebio Caro (1817–53), Gregorio Guitiérrez Gonzales (1826–72), and Rafael Pombo (1834–1912). Caro, who was influenced by the English poets, is generally rated as the most important Colombian Romantic. José Asunción Silva (1865–96) is regarded as the father of Latin American symbolism; his Nocturnos are among the finest poems in the Spanish language. Guillermo Valencia (1873–1945), the author of Anarkos, was a polished poet of the classical school, and León de Greiff (1895–1976) is a well-known poet. Miguel Antonio Caro (1843–1909) and Rufino José Cuervo (1844–1911) were philologists and humanists of great erudition who influenced scholars and students in the 19th century. The Instituto Caro y Cuervo in Bogotá is devoted to the study and publication of their works. Well-known literary critics include Baldomero Sanín-Cano (1861–1957) and Antonio Gómez-Restrepo (1868–1951).
Colombia's most notable painter was Gregorio Vázquez Arce y Ceballos (1638–1711), whose drawing and coloring have been compared to the work of the Spanish painter Murillo. Francisco José de Caldas (1770–1816) was a brilliant botanist who discovered a system for determining altitude by the variation in the boiling point of water and began the scientific literature of the country. Guillermo Uribe-Holguín (1880–1971) and José Rozo Contreras (b.1894) are noted composers. The works of the contemporary historian Germán Arciniegas (b.1900) are well known to the English-speaking world through translation.