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

1st Part


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Introduction    Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    

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

Augustine Aglio, son of Gaetano Notago, Barrister, and Marianne Mondini was born in the parish of the Cathedral the 15th Dec. 1777. By the death of his 3 brothers he was alone left to his parents who concentrated all their affection on him.

[Aglio’s autobiography states that he had 1 brother and 2 sisters who all died.]

In 1787, the family transferred their domicile to Milan when they sent their little son to the College of Barnabus and Alexander [ College of Barnabus, under Fr Alexander ] when by the amicability and gentleness of his character and his wonderful ferocity **** for the art of design he quickly became the favourite pupil of the Province Superior who was at that time a celebrated preacher, the Father Quadrupany, although he gave special application to classics in which he made rapid progress, yet he did not neglect his study of the elements of design and on the occasion of the visit of the Emperor Joseph the Second to the College, Aglio from his distinguished merit was presented to the Emperor. This introduction procured him the honour of being presented to Leopold the Second, the successor of Joseph the Second, who most generously promised Aglio, gratuitous post in the College of Ghislieri at Padua when he should be old enough to be admitted. At that time the genius of the young Aglio was developing itself and from the rapid strides he made in the more serious studies of the College as well as in the arts it is evident to all that he would become greatly distinguished; having attended the College Academy of Brera he learnt under Professor Giocondo Albertolli ornamental design and under Professors Piermarini and Polacchi the elements of Architecture and later under Professor Appranni the art of painting in fresco and Signor Rusca Scultpure – during the interval of his being admitted to the University of Padua he studied mathematics when the invasion of the army of the French Republic into Italy put a stop to the course of the University and Aglio with the enthusiasm of all the other students entered voluntarily the beginning of the Cisalpina Republic and became a Soldier. Aglio was in the battle of Faenza 2nd February 1897 [ Aglio – 21st Feb 1897 ]under the command of General Victor and subsequently at the surrender of Ancona and Tolentino where peace was signed with Pope Pius the 6th but having taken a fever while he was stationed at Perugia he obtained of the Directory the permission of retirement to restore his health. His health was slowly restored when he **** to Rome to study the arts under the celebrated painter Campovecchio of Mantua whose school he attended for two years, he was instructed to paint from nature under this celebrated master which gave to all his works a prominence. At that time Mr William Wilkins and English Architect, proposed to travel and visit Sicily and Greece and make drawings of the ancient monumnets and sort for a young artist to accompany himwho could take pictures of the countryside as well as of the architectural monuments. With this desrire William Wilkins applied to Canova who gave him a pressing introduction to Cardinal Milanese Dugani and to the celebrated painter Angelica Kaufmann and a few days afterwards in 1799 Aglio left Rome with Wilkins – having gone through Sicily Greece and Egypt. Aglio enriched the voluminous album of the English architect with the precious designs in chiaroscuro of all the principal antiquities they had visited and he returned alone to Rome in 1802 –here he studied the arts at the **** fount of the great masters of the Tuscan School so gloriously represented in the Vatican and at St. Peter’s and while dedicating all his time to these grand picturesWilkins wrote to offer Aglio the post of assistant in his school of design in one of the Colleges of the University of Cambridge with an annual pension of 4000 francs. Advised by the cardinal and the recollection of the complete harmony which had existed between the English architect and himself and his desire to see and travel more, England to him a new country induce him to accept the flattering offer – he embarked at Leghorn 14th Sept 1803 on board a Swedish vessel and after a disastrous stormy voyage and visits of pirates Aglio arrived at Gravesend near to London the 13th December. Having arrived at Cambridge he entered Caius College and made many designs for Wilkins – but towards the year 1804 there was continually felt the severity of control and Aglio became tired of the monotony of his existence and was oppressed with sadness and his protector evinced coldness and made sarcastic remarks. Aglio made a painting in oil the first *** of his night hours ** and destined as a present to a valued friend when William informed him thet the work as every other work executed during the engagement was not his property Aglio resolved to break this humiliating servitude he applied to a benevolent friend of his Captain of the volunteer sharpshooters, having freed himself from the engagement of the architect. Provided with recommendation to several high families of London our artist then dedicated himself to the instruction of numerous pupils many whom were the children of the Marquis Camden and the daughter of **** Spencer who afterwards became the governess of the Princess Royal. After some time he acquired the acquaintance of many artists who were distinguished and he was offered advantageous conditions from Mr Taylor, the propietor of the Italian Opera Theatre and associated himself with the celebrated artist **** and helped to decorate the Grand Theatre.

Having finished this work in four monts Aglio was unfortunate by the failure of Mr Taylor to lose the payment of his labour. The great success which he attained in this work procured him a commission to decorate the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Mary Moorfields and *** dance theatre which occupied him 14 months and furnished him with considerable remuneration. At this time Aglio made the acquaintance of a wealthy commercial family and obtained the hand of one of their daughters and was married to Miss Letitiia Clarke on the 16th of March 1805at the church of St Anne’s in the Parish of Soho. Aglio remained in London till 1807 when he went to Yorkshire and dwelt in the neighbourhood of Ackworth a twelve month and executed in fresco pictures at the residence of two distinguished persons Messrs Mortimer and Woolley. On returning to London our artist executed several works in Chiaroscuro and in oil for the Royal family of the Duke of Berry after which he was introduced to many influencial patrons and received a commission from a rich merchant of Martinica established in London to paint the views of the picturesque scenery of Lake Killarney in Ireland at the price of 15000 francs.

[ The Duke of Berry was of the French Royal Family, the younger son of the future King of France. He was assassinated in 1820 ]

Aglio went to Ireland in 1809 and devoted a year in drawing from nature the most interesting views of that most charming locality. He returned to London in May 1810 when his beautiful painting of Erin attracted the attention of the renowned Marquis of Landsdown, who greatly admired the paintings.

[ The Marquess of Lansdowne , known as Lord Henry Petty and later as The Earl of Kerry served as Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer ]

Not many months after his return from Ireland a movement was made against the monopoly of the Italian Opera or King’s Theatre and a society was formed for the erection of a second Italian Opera. This incident could not but be propitious to our artist and he was commissioned to decorate the spacious edifice in 1811 celebrated of late as the Pantheon B Oxford Streeet and the committee requested Aglio to complete the interior decoration which he finished in a few months and his work was greatly admired and he received 38000 francs for his work. At this epoch the art of lithography was introduced to England from Germany. The Ministers of Marine took occasion to avail himself of this recent discovery to employ a small lithographic press to reproducing circular letters but to Aglio is due the praise of being the first to introduce lithographic stories for the purpose of reproducing the principal works of art on Great Britain.

The first lithographic designs produced in London were Aglio’s ‘The Views of the Lakes of Killarney’ painted by him is 1809. After these he produced and published the portraits of celebrated artists, the designs of Alberti country views and other subjects too numerous to mention.

[ It is believed the Alberti refers to Leon Battista Alberti 1404-1472 , a renaissance man, who

who intriduced the idea of the villa in beautiful countryside ]

But this novel branch of the arts did not prevent our artist from painting high works of art in oil and he receive a commision from Mr George Gillow, banker of Oxford Street, and Aglio produced in the short space of one year not less that 75 small pictures in oil of fancy subjects in which predominated his genius and delight in country subjects. The fertility of invention of our artist and the depth of his colouring and his masterly manner of painting the grand scenes of nature obtained for him the admiration and sympathy of the rich banker which induced him to propose to Aglio the execution of a work which offered to our artist the opportunity of manifesting his singular faculty of invention and his great talent for design colouring and perspective. The church of St. Mary’s familiarly known as Moorfield’s Catholic Chapel was, until the erection of the church of St. George Southwark, the first temple dedicated to the Roman Catholic Religion all things being considered in the Metropolis. Although this grand edifice which the piety and *** of the Catholics raised on the banks of the River Thames far outshone its primitive example of Moorfields, not only from there being a greater area but from the chaste harmony of its architectural proportions which with its gorgeous ornamentation gave it all the prestige of a Basilica and when in 1819 the church was opened for the Catholic Service it offered a most remarkable contrast to the small church situated in a remote locality of London and the Catholics had a Church worthy of their ancient religion where they could worship without molestation, undisturbed in celebrating their **** rites of a proscribed religion. Mr Gillow, being a liberal contributor in the creation of the grand edifice which was erected from the designs of the celebrated Milanese architect ***********, it was easy to obtain from our artist the ornamentation of the interior. The payment was 75000 francs for the decorating the choir and *** *** Aglio completed the collosal work in less that 4 months.

Here I will take advantage of a special digression of Aglio’s own views of his paintings from his autobiography in English dedicated to his son giving it in his own words:

"The work which I painted in fresco met with general admiration notwithstanding the general applause, I confess some of my details were not so perfect as I could wish though I feel that my deficiency could not be attributed to any negligence on my part but from the haste which the priests who directed all things connected with the building continually and insidiously pressed upon me the necessity but to let nothing intervene to proceed quickly with the work and not to let my scrupulous feelings as an artist seeking fame hinder the rapid completion of the work The Fresco behind the high altar was on an elliptal surface on the wall of the choir the screen before which was composed of 4 columns of precious alabaster behind the high altar. The painting as seen from the church was cut into 5 parts, the centre being somewhat hidden by the high altar. The fresco is 55 English feet wide by 33 feet high and the subject which is the crucifixion consists of 200 figures and considering the great work was completed in 100 days without my having prepared any design or made any cartoon. Any one on serious reflection will only attribute any deficiency not to negligence but to the rapidity of the execution of the work urged on by the priests who were anxious for its completion without considering the delicate nature of the grand work"

[ Conparison is required with the actual words in Aglio’s autobiography:

"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." ]

The Assumption of the Virgin with the 12 Apostles who are contemplating her, forming the rectangular fresco of the half nave -this painting is grand and severe and is divided into 14 compartments in the large corner in which are introduced various biblical subjects in chairoscuros in imitation of **** our artist although candidly mentioning in his autobiography the intrinsic merits of his work for the sake of brevity omits the eulograms on the newspapers of that day but to be impartial we must not omit the description of the consecration on the church by the Times Newspaper, the only journal which reflects the opinion of the English Public which in an article on the 9th June 1865 on the consecration of Fr Manning Bishop of Westminster on the 8th in the church of Moorfields say " The Interior of the Sanctuary produces the most profound impression the effects of the paintings and the decorations in marvellous and the beautiful Fresco of Aglio of the crucifixion the only painting of its kind **** with grand effect the turbulent scene of the great sacrifice the effect of which is greatly enhanced by the picture being set at the back behind the columns and high altar and gives a marvellous representation of the terrible panorama".

Aglio prosecuted his studies in lithoghraphy which brought great gains and after having published large copies of views in Switzerland in Germany and in Italy he followed in April 1821 with 100 plates of ornamental design which were collected into one volume and printed by Hullmandel with the title School of Progressive Ornamental Design designed invented and lithographed by A Aglio and in September he published a series of Frescos painted by him in 1807 at the Villa Woolley in the County of York in 20 plates in one volume 80 with a portrait of the author under the Latin name Augustinus Aelius. At the end of the year our artist painted the drop scene of the Haymarket Theatre after which he was introduced to the Duke of Bedford who commissioned Aglio to paint county scenes to adorn his residence Woburn Abbey in which he exhibited his great talent for colouring which obtained for him numerous commissions and also the constant friendship of his grace which he showed in his copious correspondence with our artist, 70 letters from the noble Duke now in the possession of the son will testify. From 1822 to 1824 Aglio continued his lithographic publications, namely a collection of views of the scenery of Aosta, in folio imperial the principal figures of Giotto,
[ Capilavvori di Giotto ] Leonardo, Michelangel, Raffael, Correggio Ribera, Guido etc. lithographic plates from the engravings of Thomas Piroli of the Final Judgement by Michelangelo, the designs of the battles of Napoleon the first copied from the works of the most celebrated French artists which portaits of the most celebrated personages of that period Belzoni, General Spagnolo, Don Raffael di Riego etc. etc. and followed with lithographs of the Woburn frescos and afterwards with studies of trees which surrounded that villa – here we must note a most singular circumstance that occurred on the publication of Belzoni portrait which contributed strangely to embarrass the space. In order to illustrate the memory of the illustrious discovery of the Antiquities of Egypt, Aglio had commences in 1824 (Belzoni died in 1823 in the African desert) to publish a beautiful portrait in lithography destined for Belzoni’s widow who lived in London. The extraordinary stature of Belzoni ( who was 8 feet high and who was called by Aglio familiarly the giant ) induced the artist to represent the bust only of his friend in the most African scenery and surrounded by the trophies of the immense necropolis of ancient Egyptian civilisation which extends form the Nile to the Mediterranean and the desert among the various Egyptian Antiquities shadowed by palm trees was the Pyramid of Cefreme (which Belzoni was the first to penetrate with an open Sarcophagus from which a serpent was issuing. The introduction of the reptile which was perfectly in accordance with the nature of the country, was construed by degrees as a personal allusion to Belzoni and raised malicious suggestions and soon became most offensive and injurious to our artist and made a bad impression respecting the portrait. Aglio for some time stemmed the unpleasant feeling but not wishing to make enemies recalled very many copies at his own expense.