Autobiography of Agostino Aglio

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Autobiography written in the hand of Agostino Aglio. It is in a shaky hand, probably left, and on 2x quarto paper folded with a black line around the back. This document was preceded by another almost identical written on foolscap. A few comments from this have been added at the end for completeness.

It is from this autobiography and from a chronological list of events in Agostino’s life, written by his son, Augustine, that Frederico Saachi, a relation, produced the Biography in 1868 "SUNTO BIOGRAFICO TRATTO DALLE MEMORIE INEDITE SULLA VITA E OPERE di AGOSTINO AGLIO pittor cremonese raccolte e tradotte dall’ Inglese". A summary of this biography, written in English, at the time of the Italian publication is also available but it is unclear who wrote it.

Reference should also made in the Biography of the work "Alphabetic Biography of Painters, Sculptors and Architects from Cremona 1827 by Giuseppe Grasselli"

Punctuation and occasional words and spellings has been modified from the original to make it slightly more readable.

Comments are added in boxes.

My Dear Son -
Here I comply with your request of giving you a sketch of the principle events of my life, and in so far as I can remember I will leave you this my memorandum -

In the month of December 1777 in the city of Cremona in Lombardy I was born the son of Gaetano Aglio and christened in the Baptistry of the Duomo or Cathedral, the Church of the City. I was the fourth child of my parents, but within a year and within a week my dear brother and two sisters were carried away by the Small Pox and I remained the only one child rather petted by my father from my infancy.

Hand written side comment in another hand:
By register in the Cathedral born 15 Dec 1777 Anna Maria Mondini Cajetan – Yulgo Gaetano

I gave indications of my natural inclination to art, if all I have been told of myself can be believed, but I well remember some very early points of those days, particularly my employing all my pens and ink to ornament the margins of every page in my school books, to say nothing of my copy books. My father having taken up his residence for some years in Milan, it was there that I was principally educated at the College of the Father of the Order of Barnabites, called Fr. Alexander,
and I never forgot in my life afterwards those happy days, and the noted partiality of my preceptor and in particular the provincial superior, a celebrated preacher in those days the Father Quadrupany.

Study was to me a source of enjoyment, but the great instability of my mind was never or could never be conquered, and thus my Classic Learning without a purpose became a useless, and unprofitable acquisition. An unfortunate family pride made me neglect and despise all sorts of business knowledge, which I always considered unfit and greatly derogative for a gentleman, and I am sorry now to confess that this fatal prejudice, nay, let me say error has rendered me in the after times the suffering victim of all designing men, and by the want of proper caution always lost the benefits of my labours, of my talents and of my industry.

To mention what may be called principal instances in life, although I can hardly say that I do remember, one it is what I been told on my having been very kindly noticed in my infancy by the Emperor Joseph II of Germany to whom I was to be remembered in fitting time, his death not long after put a stop to all expectations. I do remember however when at the age of 12 the visit of the Emperor Leopold II who succeeded the throne being in Milan, granting me personally a stall in the Imperial College Ghislieri at the University of Pavia, for the time I should be of age sufficient to be admitted. During this interval the studies of Drawing and Mathematics became my occupations. My entrance into the Academy of Brera was lead by the kind Professor Giocondo Albertolli, who first taught me to cut my crayon and directed me first in the leading rudiments of Ornamental Drawing, in which he used to say that I devoured my lessons and Professor Polacchi in the Elements of Architecture, as well as the Architect Piermarini repeated the same expressions in succession, nor was I less a favourite with Professor Rusca the Sculptor.

At that time it seems that Milan and much of Northern Italy was attached to Austria and under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Brear Acadamy was started by Maria Theresa of Austria - Holy Roman Empress in 1776. Her son was Emperor Joseph II

and his son was Emperor Leopold II.

This passed away the interval time of waiting for my admission to the University, and as the time arrived, the invading armies of the Republican France descending into Italy put a stop to the University. Most of the students caught the delirium of the time and I, amongst the rest enrolled, as a volunteer in the Legion of the Cisalpina Republic and on the 21st February 1897, I was in my first battle crossing the Bridge of Faenza under the command of General Victor, as also at the following surrender of Ancona and at Tolentino when the peace with Pius VI was signed; finally stationed at Perugia where I was taken seriously ill and by the advice of the medical Doctor Savi, with whom I was billeted and left in care by the Colonel, through my father in Milan I obtained my discharge by the Directory and on my recovery proceeded to Rome, travelling through the picturesque mountains of the Apennines still thoughtless, inconsiderate, and changeable, yet thinking to be an artist.

I arrived at the Eternal City through the kindly care and advise of the late Cardinal Dugnani a Milanese Nobleman to whom I had been recommended by my father.

Cardinal Dugnani was a significant figure in church circles and became Arch bishop in a number of places in the Region.

I soon became acquainted with other artists, and by way of novelty to the amiable old painter Campovecchio a Mantuan and the best landscape painter in those days at Rome. By him I was initiated into landscape drawing and painting from nature, and my roaming disposition suited me much with my new acquisition. My anxiety to see foreign climates was soon to be indulged by the following favourable circumstances. It was, I believe, in 1799 that the architect Mr. Wilkins travelling principally in Greece and Magna Grecia visited Rome and wishing for a companion and assistant in his architectural researches applied to the Sculptor Canova to recommend him such a one with the following qualifications – A young Gentleman of some classical education, intelligent and a good architectural and landscape draftsman of agreeable conversation and respectable connections, good qualities, as to morality etc.

Magna Grecia referred to, was the southern part of Italy including Sicily

Canova promised his enquiries but doubted success in all these required qualifications. It was at the evening conversatione of that truly excellent woman and clever artist Madame Angelica Kauffman where Cardinal Dugnani and many other great characters in Science, Literature and the Arts always met that the complicated requisition of the English Architect was, by Canova, communicated when Madame Angelica addressing the Cardinal said "does your eminence think possible to meet with such a youth". Yes! was he answer and I will recommend him. Wilkins saw the Cardinal, and I travelled with him I believe about 18 months and parted again in Rome.

In 1802 early in the spring and on my return from Egypt, I received a letter from Cambridge with the offer of an engagement to come to England at a pension of £150 per annum. I and Wilkins had been so happy travelling together, that I could not but be rejoiced at the offer and the Cardinal approved my acceptance.

On the 13th December 1803 I landed in Gravesend and here I may say commenced my life. Italian, French and Latin were the only languages I could converse in and I was left in a place where only English was spoken; it was just on the renewal of the war after the peace of Amiens and great severity was exercised on foreigners but Mr. Wilkins on the notice of my embarkation at Leghorn had procured the requisite papers from the Government which had been transmitted to the alien office at Gravesend and were there waiting for me when I made my appearance there, following the mute signals of a custom house officer; after some, to me, unintelligible questions a clerk entered the office addressing me in French informed me that at that moment the Principal being a Captain of a Body of Volunteer Sharpshooters was out exercising his men but if I followed the person to whom he had just given some instructions he would lead me to a proper hotel and see that I was made comfortable, which was truly done, and every attention was shown to me. Soon after Captain Walsh came from the grounds, and overwhelmed me with kindness and attention which soon changed in close friendship that lasted during his lifetime, and now continue in our children.

A person arrived from Cambridge to take charge and to conduct me to my destination and I believe it was St Thomas’ day that I was installed in my chambers in the /to me/ most lugubrious of all Colleges in the Universe – Caius College .

I was kindly received by Mr. & Mrs. Wilkins and the whole of his numerous family, but unacquainted with English manners and formality I thought my friend cold, and his family reserved and severe, excepting Mrs Wilkins the mother in whom motherly kindness most prominently shined but could not understand me except through her son and daughters. So I continued to the end of the summer 1804, but found myself unhappy and alone and the worst of it was that I began to feel that I was under a sort of servitude, and how that feeling came over me I must now tell.

I have said already the great attention I received from Captain Walsh; wishing to give him a mark of grateful feelings I had put on my easel a small landscape intended for him; but as in the whole day I was engaged for him {Mr. Wilkins} it was at night that I worked at the landscape; but when completed I could not resist the impulse of showing my nightly labours to my friend which I did on the following morning on his calling at my apartment. It was well I did so for the servants of the college had {observed } my nightly vigil and as they could not converse with me, fearing for my health, they had spoken to Mr. Wilkins about it. He, however, had different feelings about it and wish to see the end; so he was pleased when showing him the picture I explained for whom it was and what for, but he also gave me to understand that he had a right to claim the picture, and that all my works even my studies and my sketch book were strictly his property.

He was pleased with the picture and would not deprive me of the pleasure to send it to my friend, and most kindly took the trouble to see it properly packed up and directed to its destination where I saw it afterwards, but the dire certainty of servitude was impressed in me and as I could not love a master, I was alone and supremely unhappy and I felt myself too humiliated, and truly a stranger. Unfortunately Mr. Wilkins left the College for a few weeks and my loneliness worked me up to a nervous fever and I felt as if turning mad.

My friend Captain Walsh when I left him for Cambridge, taking me aside said mark me – "I know my country and countrymen and as my duty of Inspector of Aliens throw me much amongst foreigners of all nations, I am well acquainted with their general feelings. You now seem delighted to meet a friend and a fellow traveller, with whom you have passed some happy days, but he was then a stranger and from home. You may find him now another man, the which I hope not, but in any case should you find your situation unpleasant and uncomfortable spare me not, but write to me immediately."

In the state of mind I was in I did not hesitate to write and on the third day he was by my side and took me away immediately and returning subsequently again to Cambridge arranged all differences with Mr Wilkins and I was made free and commenced my life anew in London; I did not break entirely with Mr Wilkins and as I started first as a drawing master, it was through his recommendation that my first pupils were the 3 ladies, daughters of the late Earl afterwards Marquis Camden, and through their commendation the Lady Sarah daughter of the late Earl Spencer and lately after the dowager Lady Littleton – mixing however into the world, I soon made acquaintances and soon entered the painting room of the Kings Opera House, whose principal painter was Marinari, a Florentine, and artist of great practical knowledge but very deficient in true artistic education.

For clarification:
The Kings Opera House is now Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, London, SW1 - formerly Queen's Theatre / King's Theatre / His Majesty's Theatre / Italian Opera House.
After the destruction of the King's Theatre in the Haymarket by fire in 1789, it was converted into an opera house.

Aglio painted the interior in 1806

In 1792 The Pantheon in Oxford Street burnt down and there is a famous painting by J.M.W.Turner The Pantheon the Morning after the Fire

Aglio painted the interior of the new building which was backed by the Duke of Bedford in 1811.


'The Pantheon', Survey of London: volumes 31 and 32: St James Westminster, Part 2 (1963), pp. 268-283. URL:

Here, however, I begun my works in England and the internal decoration of this theatre was my first debut, great have been the praises but I never was paid and the sum of £394.80 is still due to this day to me for balances of expenses for the work. A Mr. Taylor was the well known proprietor, and it was the season of the first appearance on the stage of the renowned singer Madame Catalani in England.

It was not long before Marinari's improvements were found to fall short of perfection, for in 1799 considerable alterations were made to the pit, and the boxes were embellished and given an inclination towards the stage. (ref. 196) In 1807–8 the auditorium was entirely redecorated, The Times for 4 January 1808 reporting that 'The general appearance is light and airy; but it has not the imposing grandeur which seems to become a building devoted to the heroic opera, the most pompous of all scenic exhibitions. The fronts of the boxes are painted in panels extending along four of them; the ground tier in imitation of marble, the second tier is a French grey, with a small medallion in the centre; the ground of the third tier is also in imitation of marble, but of a lighter cast and smaller vein than that of the ground tier; it has also groups of figures extending the whole length of the compartments, and which being on a silver ground, are illuminated where ever the light of the chandeliers is reflected on them; the upper tiers are variegated, but have rather a naked appearance; the boxes are painted within sky blue, and the curtains are scarlet, and match the seats of the pit. The boxes belonging to the ROYAL FAMILY are all lined with scarlet drapery.  The ceiling exhibits a beautiful mythological painting of Aurora in the centre, and full length figures are ranged around in illuminated compartments, which contribute to the elegant air of the whole Theatre.'The auditorium was illuminated at this time by chandeliers suspended from brackets on the tier fronts, and the greasy smoke from many candles must have brought a quick deterioration of the new decorations, for in 1813 the theatre was described as 'this dirty and degraded temple of the Italian Muses'. (ref. 197) When the 1814 season closed, the long-needed redecoration was begun and the result was described in The Times of 16 January 1815. 'Last night this Theatre opened for the season. From the squalid and disarranged state in which it closed, great room as well as great necessity for improvement and cleaning were left to the new Manager [Waters], and certainly much less has been done to restore it to its rank among decent places of public resort. The fronts of the boxes have all been newly coloured. . . . The ceiling [sic] represents the Genius of Music, with Iris, and some nondescript figures encircling him. . . . The former ceiling [sic] was a striking and vigorous representation. The present must convey to a stranger the impression, either that the arts in England were at the lowest imaginable ebb, or that the arts had nothing to do with this Theatre. . . . The chandeliers are numerous and rich, and the effect as dazzling as anything to be found within the magic of chandeliers. . . . The adoption of glass bells or shades would be devoutly wished for. . . . Last night they poured down their wax on the beaux in the most unsparing profusion; and from their situation over the principal avenues of the Pit, have means of annoyance clearly unrivalled by the noxie of any of the metropolitan theatres.'From: 'The Haymarket Opera House', Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960), pp. 223-250. URL: Date accessed: 30 June 2010.

After this work I was commissioned to decorate a small drawing room for a Captain Mortimer at his villa at Ackworth in Yorkshire and from there I was introduced as the drawing master to the family of Godfrey Wentworth, Wentworth Esq. of Woolley Park, a few miles distant. I afterwards decorated their drawing room with great success and this family have always continued their kindness and patronage to me as you my dear son well know.

Having completed my work I returned to London and my next work of importance was a commission to paint 12 pictures of views on the lake of Killarney in Ireland from a French Gentleman, a merchant of Martinique, at a price of fifty guineas each. Of course, as on my first work I never had a thought of any written agreement, the commission was satisfactorily completed, I received about £180. Ten pictures had been delivered and the balance remain due to this day the two remaining pictures are in the possession of the Marquis of Lansdown. It was not many months after my return from Ireland that an opposition was created to the monopoly of the Italian Opera, at the King’s Theatre, and a new Italian Opera was erected in the spacious building, now called a Bazaar in the Pantheon Oxford St.

I had the misfortune to engage for the entire decoration of the interior for the sum of £1500 – the work was successfully completed and much praised. I received £450 in acceptancy, the whole of which had been dishonoured, and never received a shilling afterwards, suffering great troubles, and distress for the unpaid acceptancy which I had negotiated. A fellow sufferer in the above concern, the upholsterer, feeling for my distress, with the good intention to procure me some relief, introduced me to a Mr George Gillow the elder brother of the well known firm in Oxford St. He showed me much sympathy and proposed me the decoration of the chapel which was intended to be erected by the Catholics in Moorfields and by way of employment in the interval he proposed that I may paint some pictures and he would furnish me a convenient room for the purpose upon which pictures he would advance me the [ majority ] of the price / a low one / which I should fix and the work to be kept until a sufficient number be collected for an exhibition and sale, the produce of which after repayment of the advances and expenses I should receive.

I accepted the offer and no writing existed except a little book with the description of the pictures and their prices which was kept in the studio and the new chapel was built, in which I took much trouble and interest and particularly in the principal part of the sanctuary for which I gave the plan and all the directions to the annoyance of the architect, and with a verbal agreement for the painting of £3000. The work was painted in fresco and it was executed to general admiration although I confess that although in general effect it could not be but highly applauded, still it was in the detail deficient and although good in composition, still I will acknowledge very deficient in proper drawing; nor was that much my fault, but the ruling priests of these days pressing the progress, and here I shall leave the memory of it that the altar painting is on a surface of wall to the extent of 55 feet by 33 in height, and I was obliged to execute the same within the time of 100 days without a proper drawing or cartoon, the subject representing the crucifixion with about 200 figures; no artist could, or would have dared such undertaking but I was obliged by the various combinations of circumstances to submit to the always occurring influence of those who have an usurped power and no knowledge except their strong will. I must here mention the result of all this. Mr Gillow was a strong Catholic and a principal contributor to the building, I believe for £10,000.0.0 to which was to be added the painting, therefore no one had any obligation towards its payments, and my verbal agreement was with Mr Gillow alone.

Some disappointment or misfortune or loss in business happened before I commenced the altar picture. I remember well of a great confusion in the building, but I was the greater sufferer; I had no signature to a contract. Therefore all other parties renounced any participation, and then the priests who disapproved the idea of any decoration, as they wanted the money then for other purposes.

The pictures which I had finished in the studio were in number 75 of all sizes and subjects, principally landscape, to the amount at low prices of about £800, of which I had received about £300; and on the work of the chapel for the £3000, I had received the advances during progress to the amount of £1150 and for my want of business knowledge, and precaution I lost every shilling of the larger balance and all my pictures. This however was not the last, and I was not yet cured of my errors. It was in the year 1824 I had something to do for an exhibition of Mexican produce brought over by a Mr. Bullock of the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, and on that occasion I was introduced to the late Lord Kingsborough wishing a copy or facsimile of a Mexican Hieroglyphics {codex} which was in the collection. I readily executed the order to his full satisfaction, and received another commission for all the Mexican Codeces preserved in the Bodilean Library at the University of Oxford; having completed that work, and settled my little account of a few pounds he proposed to me to go to Paris to copy some of the same kind in the Royal Library, and I accepted the offer being much interested in the novelty of the subject; and without any thought of agreement, or settlement for my labour, left my family in London trusting to the honour and liberality of a Nobleman, and in June 1825 arrived at the place of my researches, with the money furnished me by my previous labours; His Lordship however greatly extended the work, and I continued to travel on the Continent to all the principal metropolis of Europe from the North to the South collecting every object thought to appertain to the subject, and in April 1828 returned home prepared for the publication of a most curious work, the which took place in the year 1830, in seven large volumes, four being all plates and three letterpress which had been compiled by his Lordship. But ask me not what was the result of my great labours of seven years exclusive occupation ? Privation, poverty, misery, and distress on mind and body has been my remuneration – the most absurd calumny has been invented against me. His Lordship was not able to remunerate my great labours and had given me the whole of the work / which was my work / as it had not been paid, except a few hundred pounds in 4 years for travelling expenses and the expense of the paper for printing, which was the most considerable but he expected me to furnish him 100 copies coloured, of these he had as much I could give ready for delivery, but wanting a few thousand pounds, not less than five, for the expense of hand colouring. I considered more proper to render to his Lordship the whole work, and accept whatever remuneration he thought proper to give me, and at what date it may be convenient to his Lordship; My offer he thought honourable and he offered me £1500, in a bond and bearing interest at 5 per cent payable half yearly, and the principal payable in 4 years; thus I surrendered to him the whole work, and left London for some distraction, and seeking to return to my more proper profession. My small easel picture soon met with some encouragement, and I obtained a commission to decorate the great room of the Great Room of the Town Hall in Manchester, then building, and for the first time though not at my request I had a contract signed in form, being obliged to complete the work in two years, including the expenses of all the plastering and ornamental stucco work for the sum of £4000.Here again my ignorance in business played against me, and the plastering took from my contract about £2000 ! Wanting money to carry on my work, I wanted to negotiate the bond, and his Lordship’s attorney’s thought more convenient for him to stop the supply, and put the bond in Chancery and thus being pressed by some of my creditors, I was obliged to submit to a bankruptcy, and in this I must say I had an insight of real business and I make here a proper record. My real liability or debt amounted to the sum of between £800 or £900, and I surrendered in money £2500. My assignee announced a dividend of 14/7, but no balance was ever paid to me, but I know of a creditor for £30, {who} had made a claim admitted for £85, another for £18, had his claim admitted for £78 and above all a gardener, who had been in my service, and who had committed robbery in my garden, and burglary in my neighbours house and had been discharged forgiving him the crime, and had not seen him for about 20 years laid a claim, and was admitted for £20, however I shall say no more, all is past, and gone and I was obliged to sign formally a discharge from all claims on the accounts, before I could receive the last instalment of the bond allowed to the bankruptcy on the amount of dividends, and this put an end to all my labours of seven years. His Lordship, I must say had found out that all the insinuations against me were false and wished and declared he would make proper amends, but 3 months after our last interview returning to Ireland he was arrested, and being attacked by a fever while in confinement in three days he died! Of his bond, my assignees received £300 for the interest due, and having insured his life with my money they recovered £1000, of the £1500. But I had not a farthing more, nor did his Lordships heirs pay anything; the work of the town hall was completed, all claims were settled, the plasterers had the profit, and I made a beggar left that place with all appropriate blessings and with my family returned to London in the year 1835. This last change had really an epoch in my life, I had to begin again, and I began to feel my age.

Nevertheless my spirits failed me not, but no works of importance appeared to come to me until I was called to Woolley Park by my old Patron’s son the present Godfrey Wentworth Esq, and where I renewed my former work, and enlarged their extent; of my work at the pavilion it is well known and I have only to acknowledge the cand??? of the great artists employed for the Frescoes, these who desire my attendance and directory of their works, to which was added the Pompeian Room, committed to me by the special command of their gracious Majesty, and The Prince Consort at the completion of which I was highly honoured by their joint approbation which was followed by the most distinguished favour of a coloured copy of the private publication of the work, of the Pavilion.

Hand written side comment in another hand:
The Pompeian Room painted in encaustic commenced in 1844 Attendance at the pavilion 1845

After this work, I must say that nothing more worth notice has happened to me except my troubles and losses. In February 1849, I lost my dear and beloved wife, your mother; on the following October I contracted for the painting of the newly erected little theatre called the Olympic, which was successfully completed and early in December, it pleased God to visit me with an attack of Paralyses, by which I have lost the entire use and action of my right side; I have now suffered for 2 years and six months and I am waiting in hope of God’s great mercy to relieve me by calling me to my eternal home. Amen !

It has been a general opinion that I have always had a great and very advantageous employment, and of course I have been condemned as a prodigal in my expenditure, but that never was the case, except, that being born and educated a Gentleman, I never could live like a labourer, nor inhabit a dunghill, but I have never been extravagant, and never had it in my power to be such, as the detail of my principal works must prove, but I never was idle, and my works, I have very frequently sacrificed for a few shillings to procure bread for my family, and for many, who now in my destitute state have forgotten me.

May God prosper and bless my children is the prayer of the afflicted

Augustine Aglio [nee Agostino Aglio]

Addition points made in a similar document probably written as a first draft or some time earlier and is easier to read.

  • Also son of Marianna Mondoni
  • From infancy shown inclination to science and arts but easily distracted and wanted change – much learning but no purpose.
  • While with the Sculptor Rusca he was capable with the mallet and chisel but got a splinter in his eye so dropped the tools and quitted the studio.
  • Cardinal Dugnani accepted the charge of Aglio from his father but could never manage his quicksilver nature. He often strove to encourage him to be more steady.
  • With Wilkins he toured Calabria and Sicily or more classically Magna Grecia (Southern Italy)
  • Aglio was collected at Gravesend by person sent by Mr Wilkin’s father
  • First pupils were the 3 Ladies Pratt, the daughters of the Earl of Cambden ( Camden) and Lady Sarah all on the recommendation of Mr Wilkins.
  • Then met Mr Spagnioletti the violinist and through him entered the Italian Opera House which he painted for £394.8.0 and never got paid.

Additional information

There is available a hand written copy of an article about the work at Moorfields Church. – taken from The Magazine of the Fine Arts London 1821 G. & W.G. Whittaker.