Notes on the Life and Works of Augustine Aglio
Artist of Cremona
And Author of the Mexican Antiquities
By Frederick Sacchi

Part 3

1831 – 1857

Comment on this translation. Agostino Aglio Homepage 

Introduction    Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    

This Biography in Italian
Appendix 1    Appendix 2   Appendix 3    Brief Analysis                Autobiography


Although deserted by fortune Aglio, did not lose sight of the importance of his publication of the Mexican Antiquities under adverse circumstances (and it was said that the ambitions and extravagant science of the Mexican Antiquities were Utopian and attributed to him a disordered mind, but not a deceit) and laughed at our talented artist, robbed of his [ remuneration ], distressed in mind and regard, all his courage to arrest this failure of success. Five years exclusively devoted to the execution of the facsimile of the Mexican Manuscripts, their transposition on stone, successive impressions colouring, to had alienated the patronage and protection which our artist had previously to his undertaking [for] this difficult work.

He began to endeavour to attract the attention of the public and the sympathy of the *** . This arduous endeavour did not divest him of his usual free will for which we are largely indebted to our artist for the many large works he executed in several branches in the art of design in 1830 and 1850. Left free to exercise his wonderful sources of imagination he commenced to work to interest the public. Frescoes painted in encaustic and oil he obtained with wonderful rapidity to service particularly the metropolis. The memory of his name and the art of lithography which he practised in 1824 brought him considerable gain honour and resources. In Jan 1831, after publishing many sketches in lithography containing studies of forest trees (40 plates), Aglio received an invitation to decorate the hall of the corporation of Manchester in fresco which comprised of designs allegorical, mythological and a collection of appropriate subjects all in perfect harmony producing a very grand effect. He took for his influence the glory and political influence of England in peace and in war, her prominence in service , the art and manufacture of the united kingdom, the brilliant sweep of her commerce in every part of the globe from the dynasty of the Tudors until the present day. The inexhaustible fecundity of his imagination and the masterly maner of treating this grand work which he completed in June with general admiration on its completion. The contract was 100,000 francs which comprised the expense of preparing the walls etc. A description of this stupendous work was published by Henry Smith 1834 in a pamphlet of 14 pages.

The following is a gratifying extract:

"The Council Hall of the Municipality is a large square in the centre of which is a rotunda with two aisles lighted by a cupola [ a domed shaped ornamental structure ] . In the large division east ( next Pall Mall) the picture represents the interview with the Sheikh of Persia, Kouli Khan, in 1736 when England sent a mission to the East to obtain the privilege of freely importing its produce when at this time Europe was denied the privilege. Nadir [ Nausir ] surrounded by dignitaries of his court, by high priests (mufti) and numerous followers sitting on a gorgeous throne receives the English deputies introduced by the grand master of ceremonies with the parchment which contains the treaty between the two nations. On the other side is seen the interview between Lord Macartney and the Emperor of China at the city of Zhe-hol in Tartaria

[ It can be casually assumed that this imagery came from:

An authentic account of an embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China: ...taken chiefly from the papers of His Excellency the Earl of Macartney ... Sir Erasmus Gower ... and of other gentlemen in the several departments of the embassy, Volumes 1-2 ]

Allegorical figures of the Arts, Industry, Commerce, Liberty to adorn the cupola forming a crown in which the figure of immortality with a hand stretched out on the head of Great Britain and with the other peace descending on Europe. On the right hand of the hall (Cross Street End) was painted the first voyage of Cabot to North America. This is divided into two paintings etc. This great work obtained for our artist universal ***** in the same time he painted numerous pictures and he left Manchester in March 1835. He secured 35,605 francs. Three of his pictures which were most successful were a view of the lake of *** purchased by Mr Fielding for 1750 francs, an engraving titled Winters wreath a Landscape with bathing figures painted for Mr Hackwright ( ie Arkwright) and exhibited in January 1834 in the British Institution in London and two paintings of morning and night in the style of Claude Lorrain which was sold to a dealer for 8750 francs.

On his return to London our artist after painting several small landscapes and sea pieces painted the portraits of Thorpe and Crossley and their children.

In 1837 he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Roman Catholic Chapel Duncan Terrace at Islington (a suburb of London) the subject being the Eternal Father in Glory and the Four Evangelists. After completing this work soon after the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne June 1837 he obtained the singular favour to paint Her Majesty which was engraved by H.J.Graves. The Queen was in the robes of state and the publication took place in this solemn occasion.

The enumeration of all the works painted by our artist from 1837 to 1843 would occupy pages but for the sake of brevity we limit ourselves to those produced till 1838, an accurate lithographic plate of the fresco at Moorfields, a fresco at the Roman Catholic Chapel in Reading, Berkshire, a large grand picture in oil of the ceremony of the Coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abby with portraits of the nobility and celebrated personages present at that sacred site. In 1839 a magnificent plate in Mezzotint ( the only Mezzotint that our artist published), a portrait of the Queen sitting on the throne purchased by Mr. Dawe for his cabinet for 4000 francs afterwards engraved and lastly a small picture in oil sold for 3000 francs representing Pope Leo 12th giving his blessing on Easter Monday in the church of St. John Laterano at Rome.

Invited in 1840 to Halifax Yorkshire Aglio painted many pictures for various persons in that city till 1841 when he obtained a commission from Mr Goodman to paint for the sum of 3000 francs a small altar picture representing the Agony of the Saviour at his death for the protestant Parish Church of Leeds with great success. On his return to London until 1843 lithographic publications as well as in oil and ten cabinet pictures for Mr Benton in 1842 at the price of 3000 francs and a cartoon of an allegorical subject exhibited in the gallery of Westminster the first months of 1843. The Prince Consort wish to ornament in fresco by the first artist of the day an elegant pavilion erected in the garden of the Royal Palace on Buckingham our artist received a proposition from the Royal Architect at the house of Mr Gruner on account of Aglio’s knowledge in the branch of the art of fresco, his colleagues and he painted in a few months the ceiling [ octagonal shaped ] of the pavilion in the style of Pompeii and he gave useful suggestions to his fellow artists. Aglio speaks of this in his autobiography dedicated to his son as follows:

"My work at the Pavilion at Buckingham Palace was a great satisfaction and during the progress of the work I had frequent visits of the Royal Family and was honoured and complimented with the approval of her Majesty and the Prince Consort and was favoured by a coloured copy of all the paintings of the Pavilion which was privately painted which contained most faithfully copies of all the frescoes and encaustics in the pavilion and secondly the pleasure with which the distinguished artists condescending received my assistance and surveillance in the execution of the frescos entrusted to them."

[ The Italian biography refers to Sir Charles Eastlake, Sir Edwin Landseer, Sir William Ross, Mr [ Charles Robert ] Leslie and Mr [ Daniel ] Maclise ]

[ This quotation is not in the handwritten autobiography and yet I am sure that I have seen it somewher in English before this document. ]

Aglio went to Mr Wentworth and was two years occupied in attempting to renew in encaustic the works painted in 1808 and other works in fresco to adorn the new hall at his princely villa.

On Aglio’s return to London he began two large pictures in oil, one representing Rebecca at the well and the other the Baptism of Christ which was destined for the exhibition at Westminster having been invited by the Commissioners of the Academy.

This pictures were placed in the galleries of that palace and attracted universal attention and the admiration of the populace and also the press of the period and the Times had the following reflection in their publication of 2 June 1847:

"The Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, 11 pictures will be presented to the competitors with a premium of 25,000 francs given by the Community of Baptists. The artists are obliged to represent Christ being baptised in the River Jordan with the principle figure life size illustrated in the 3rd Chapter of St Matthew but the treatment of the subject in the first instance is left to the imagination of the artists. With the exception of two pictures we confess the artist have not displayed the talent we could expect. 9 of their pictures came far short and remarkably so of that vivacity of colouring, the dimension character and glorifying, only nos. 10 and 11 ( the last was Aglio’s) present a grand manner vigorous and delicate and these two artists merit fame in the world of artists."

Having sustained the grievous loss of his wife Feb 1849 he went for some time to Woburn Abbey invited by the Duke of Bedford to paint some country scenes in oil and returning to London in September Mr Cavell, proprietor of the New Olympic Theatre invited Aglio to decorate the magnificent theatre and the contract was 12500 francs and completed with the assistance of his son, this work, in 7 weeks. We will here give a short description:

The central ceiling of the theatre is divided into 4 compartments of the diameter of the architectural ornamentation in which Aglio introduced 4 allegorical figures representing the seasons in air warmed and influenced by the sun which occupied the centre as a golden ornament with gas to illuminate the theatre. A large fascia which encircles the ceiling divided into compartments with the signs of the Zodiac which mark with outstretched arms each season and in the arch over the proscenium was painted in chiaroscuro on a gold ground two allegorical subjects, poetry and music, while the front of the gallery, divided into compartments, and the boxes of the proscenium are introduced cameos, masks and Caryatids, part coloured and part chiaroscuro. The work was eulogised by Lord Craven the proprietor of the edifice as well as Cavell the manager.

The theatre was opened on the 26th December and the public testified to their approbation and applauded the success or our artist. This was Aglio’s last triumph before the world. In the Spring of 1850 Aglio became paralysed on his right side and was prevented from doing other works. Aglio retired with his children to the suburb of Camberwell and after painted some watercolour drawings with his left hand and a short account of his life he departed this life the 30th Jan 1857 aged 79 to the regrets of his family and a few faithful friends. He was honourably buried in the family tomb and at Highgate which he had acquired some years before but the Tombstone wants and inscription recording his memory. In concluding this summary too rapidly ****

By speaking from the materials I possessed it only remains for me to add that in his private life he was greatly beloved as is evidenced by numerous letters and also in my own judgements and without partiality he was a good parent and in his autobiography written in English in 1832 he displayed a most street conscientious feeling.

"He was a gentleman by birth and education, he resolutely determined to live by his talents and rather to live in a garret, not to be extravagant or prodigal. From the sad infliction which he suffered, he was obliged to relinquish any possibility of going on with his work and was obliged to sacrifice his works, at last, [ at a loss ] to obtain means for his family, but friends helped him in his time of need which he never forgot.