Most Influential Figures in Music, Art, Literature and Architecture in Recorded History

by Jonathan Hobratsch

The following are list of influential figures in music, art, literature and architecture from world history . I should be clear that this is not a list of the most skilled individuals in this field. This is solely a list of worldwide influence. Everyone on this list is a candidate for inclusion for my eventual list of top 100 most influential people of all time. Others could be added to this list at some point. 

The difficulty in this list is that, unlike with the lists of  scientists, inventors, medical personnel, religion founders, etc., the creative arts fields are very regional rather than international. For literature, influence often only spreads as far as the native language spreads. There is translation, in some cases. Many excellent geniuses from China, Japan, India, South America, Africa, and elsewhere, fail to make this list because the leading cultures at this time have failed to adapt the techniques of the geniuses of these worthy cultures. In the end, it may be possible that only one or two people from this entire list make the ultimate top 100 influential list. 

As with my previous list, to be considered one of the most influential people in world history, a person must obviously have done three things: a) done something to significantly and permanently alter the world, b) left an influence that is still greatly felt in 2016, and c) the influence must be directly or indirectly worldwide, and not just regional or national. 

Please let me know if I am missing someone from this list and/or if I am missing something from my criteria for inclusion. Here is the list below:

Imhotep (c.2650bc-c.2600bc) is the first known architect. He’s also the first known engineer and physician. He constructed the Pyramid of Djoser.

Homer (c. 850bc) for the first known literature of Europe and the inspiration for epic poetry.

Aeschylus (c.525bc-c.455bc) is known as the “Father of Tragedy.” He also expanded the cast of characters in plays beyond a single character and the chorus.

Aristophanes (c.446bc-c.386bc) is known as the “Father of Comedy” for writing the best examples of ancient comedy in the Western world.

Virgil (70bc-19bc) for the national epic of Roman Republic and Roman Empire, and the inspiration for other national epics worldwide.

Murasaki Shikibu (c. 975-c.1020) for writing the first novel.

Guido of Arezzo (c. 991-c.1033) invented modern musical notation.

Rumi (1207-1273) is arguably the best-selling and most published poet throughout the world.

Giotto (c.1266-1337) for his groundbreaking, solidly three-dimensional artwork.

Petrarch (1304-1374) considered the “Father of Humanism,” and arguably the single most important figure in initiating the Renaissance with his discovery of Cicero’s letters. He also sparked the popularity of sonnet poetry within his own time, and throughout much of Europe after his death.

Luo Guanzhong (c.1320-c.1400) for writing the most widely read Chinese novel, one with an influence that has expanded outside of literature and into films and video games.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400) as the primary writer establishing vernacular English as a major European language. The first major step in setting the language on its path as a world language.

Michelangelo (1475-1564) arguably the most influential artist in Western civilization. He influenced future generations of painters, sculptors, architects, engineers and poets.

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) is considered the most influential architect in architectural history, primarily for his architectural treatise.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) for writing the first modern novel and for as the primary source for the development of the Spanish language, one of the largest world languages.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) as the primary figure in the development of the English language into a world language. He also wrote plays that have been translated, spread, and staged across the world, even to the present day.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) arguably the most inventive composer, who also developed the techniques of previous composers. He was a master at counterpoint, harmonics, modulation and contrapuntal motion.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) for invigorating first wave feminism.

Mary Shelley (1797-1851) for arguably the first science fiction story.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) for the spread of Transcendentalism and declaring America’s “Intellectual Declaration of Independence” from European influence.

Georges-Eugene Haussmann (1809-1891) for the development of modern urban planning.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) for re-energizing anti-slavery forces in the largest Democracy.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) for being arguably the leading developer in the popularity of the novel.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is known as the “Father of Free Verse.” His poetry has had a large impact in North and South America and in Europe, specifically on the Iberian Peninsula.

Jerry Thomas (1830-1885)  who popularized alcoholic mixed-drinks with his inventive drink book. He is known as the “Father of Mixology.”With Thomas, cocktail-making became an art form.

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) for mastering and popularizing the short story.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) for initiating and spreading the popularity of crime fiction and mysteries.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) invented assemblage and collage. He also had a profound influence on the foundation of modern art.

Andre Breton (1896-1966) is the founder of Surrealism, a movement that still influences literature, art, sculpture, film and photography.

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) for a foundational influence on jazz, which helped its spread throughout the United States and beyond.

George Orwell (1903-1950) for his dystopian works, which gave rise to the term “Orwellian”.

Stan Lee (1922), while not the founder of Marvel Comics, put the comic book company on the map. He still influences comic books today.

Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) is a pioneering cartoonist and considered “The Father of Manga.”

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) is the most widely read author in modern Africa. He exposed racism within Africa and abroad, both in history and during his own lifetime. He opened a window into Africa that many outside of Africa had never seen.

John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (1942), George Harrison (1943-2001), and Ringo Starr (1940) formed the best selling band in world history. Their influence on music is paramount.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Alfred Corn says:

    Uh-oh. I don’t know what to make of a list that fails to include Dante, Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Yeats, Kafka, and Joyce but does include a mixed drinks innovator. As for visual art, you can’t omit Caravaggio, Monet and Cezanne. As for architecture you have to include Bernini, Wright and Mies van de Rohe. Mary Wollstonecraft is a great figure, but as a thinker, not an artist. Try Sappho, Hildegarde von Bingen, and George Eliot.

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    1. historymonocle says:

      All of those that you mentioned, except for de Rohe and Hildegarde von Bingen were mentioned. The cocktail artists was mentioned primarily to spark conversation. He obviously won’t be included in the top 100 list. What would be your arguments that Dante, Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Yeats, Kafka, Joyce, Caravaggio, Monet Cezanne, Bernini, Wright, de Rohe, Sapho, Hildegarde, and Eliot have for inclusion for a list of worldwide influence. I don’t doubt their inclusion to this artists’s list, but I tried to keep the list somewhat minimal. If you make a strong argument I’ll include them. Great catch on Wollstonecraft. One is prone to many errors when spending only part of a day in determining influence. I’ll have to increase my composer list as well. I was going to include filmmakers, but that might be my weakest area, so I left them out.

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    2. historymonocle says:

      No. I’m just saying that I considered them, but I did not include them. If you give me a good argument that they have a worldwide influence, then I’ll be happy to include them. Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

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  2. Alfred Corn says:

    Well, I must be blind because I didn’t see those names. Ockeghem, Josquin des Pres, Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Britten.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jerry Thomas?!? That’s hilarious! I’ve never heard of him. I think your list is work of artistic disorientation. I loved it 🙂 Guido of Arezzo was a good one! G’uh G’uh G’uh! Telemundo (Univision). Hah! –Paul

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