Literature origins dated back to the 15th Century when the island poets were popular for their poems, prose, and the translation of texts from ancient Greek to the spoken language. In the following Century Zakynthos strongly contributed to the Greek literature and art by founding the first Greek Academy and with characters such as Martelaos, Foscolo’s teacher, Gouzelis and Solomos and Matesis, playwrights considered the forerunners of the modern Greek theatre. Among the most popular poets of the 19th Centuries there are Foscolo, Italian language, Kalvos, whose sentence “Freedom requires virtue and audacity” is quoted in the symbol of the city of Zante and Dionisio Solomos to whom a church and a square have been dedicated. Solomos studied in Italy and wrote poems in Italian, then came back to Zakynthos, his homeland, where he wrote poems to sustain the population during the war against the Turkish domination, among his works some lyric compositions of the modern Greek literature. Kalvos and Solomos’ mortal remains are at the museum that has been dedicated to them.
Byzantine art has a heavy influence on the first paintings with much of these initial pieces being dedicated to religious themes depicting holy icons in churches and created using the technique of egg tempera on woof. By the 17th century, Doxaras introduced a new painting style of oil on canvas. Another noteworthy artist was Koundounis, one of the first to paint pictures with Nationalistic messages as opposed to only religious. Tsakos too is appreciated for his quality, precision and detailed pieces. The 19th Century saw a change how paintings were viewed. They were no longer solely being exposed in churches with holy depictions, it became a form of art for everyone to admire and also be placed in ones home. During this time Pelekasis also became important and internationally acclaimed for his landscape, portrait and icon pieces that are shown in museums.
The 18th Century saw the art of silver engraving and wood sculpting develop and as such the works were displayed and admired throughout Zante, especially in churches. Engravings from Bafas, a well known silver engraver, can be admired in St Dionisios Church. The Vlachos brothers used their talent as wood sculptors to decorate many churches and house, however sadly much of their work was destroyed during the 1953 Earthquake. Stefanos Xenopolous is too remembered and respected for his talent in mosaic art.
Prior to the 1953 Earthquake, the city of Zakynthos was filled with as many churches as elegant buildings, bourgeois and standard housing. Between 1840 and 1870 Venetian influence led to more construction of public buildings, roads and brides in the neo-classical style. Unfortunately with the earthquake and subsequent fire the largest part of the city was destroyed. The reconstruction of those destroyed buildings did not always closely resemble the old design and therefor a large part of the beauty of the previous civilisation also disappeared.
Musical instruments, while also being used during military parades, were used by islanders to make songs and ballads to accompany folk feasts and festivals. Aside from the Venetian and Cretan influences, the islanders developed their own style of music which led to heavy success with the Zakynthos School of Music in 1815 and also in the years following within choirs and music clubs. The traditional style is expressed throughout religious and folk music most notably expressed in the Sirtaki- an ancient and lively ball with folk songs depicting love and marriage. During the period of Venetian domination, representations within theatres also developed. Historically these were more occasions that were reserved for the higher classes and held in noble parlours, but towards the end of the Venetian period the first Theatre was built to host both lower and upper classes. The most successful developments from this were the opera and “Omilies” – that is folk representations depicting the many social differences and injustices with heavy focus on the lower class. Actors would wear masks to protect their anonymity.