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

Part 2

1824 – 1830

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


Towards the end of May 1824 when a certain Mr. Bullock who had resided for a long time in America came to London with an interesting collection of Mexican Antiquities and engaged the large Hall under the name of Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly and exhibited a permanent exhibition of these curious religious ornaments.

Among the various suggestions which these antiquities elicited at the period was the question of the origin of the Aztec people and this civilisation after the discovery in the centre of America. Many circumstances contributed to keep Europe in profound ignorance concerning the people of the New World. With only vague accounts from soldiers and the only object of priests who considered it of the first importance to ascertain the religion of the natives and to neglect the enquiry with the antiquity and grandeur of their temples in a word to smother every vestige of the memory of their independence. [ The Italian suggests the objective of the priest was to cancel the religion and destroy the monuments and writings. ]

Again Spain was politically jealous of their exclusive monopoly of their vast American colony and ignorance and superstition led them to destroy multitudes of most precious documents. Spain took care to prevent Europe from acquiring any knowledge of the country and its inhabitants and all the labours of intelligent missionaries which were in their possession were sequested and destroyed. The inquisition in their ignorant persecution took pains to collect and destroy most valuable documents containing songs, religious rites, memorials, traditions. The first Archbishop of Mexico, Don Goivanni di Zumarraga of infamous memory who had studied Mexican Antiquities, a worthy colleague of the Archbishop Ximenes the fanatical burner of the manuscripts of Arabia and Grenada cammanded the erection of a pile of the precious documents in the large square of Tlatecola at which Auto del Fe were reduced to cinders all the national archives of Mexico. Notwithstanding the strict interdict of the Spanish Government to prevent all endeavour to illustrate afterwards permitted ( but in opposition to the absurd theory of Torquernada, Veytia Garcia etc. )

The history of the civilisation of the Aztecs in not to be wondered at remaining for three centuries shed out from the world all the information of the interesting portion of the globe which the exhibition of Bullock unique Mexican Antiquities offered to the learned and the curious

In their exhibition at the Egyptian Hall there was a particular Hieroglyphic manuscript which was intended to be copied faithfully and Aglio was commissioned to perform the work and notwithstanding the short time allowed Aglio with his great talent for imitation made a copy which gained **** admiration and was commissioned to produce others. Aglio commenced a copy of various fragments of the map of Mexico when Lord Viscount Kingsborough, a great admirer of antiquities was an assidious frequenter to the gallery and was encaptured with the beautiful facsimile of our artist and he wished to possess numerous copies with the consent of Bullock proposed to Aglio to make 100 copies coloured exactly as the original made with fibre of the family of the cactus. Our artist possessing a lithographic press in a few months completed the work and the fineness of the execution and the brilliant colouring resulted in his entire satisfaction and the Viscount after recompensing Aglio took the copy of the Hieroglyphic to Oxford and commissioned Aglio to copy a Mexican Hieroglyphic preserved in the Bodleian Library. The result of this new commission made Lord Kingsborough appreciate fully our artist’s ability and distributed among his friends privately as the manuscipt of Bullock and second the co-operation of our artist in a project May 1825 of making a grand collection of Mexican antiquities. IT was known that there were in several libraries on Europe similar Hieroglyphics long neglected and only considered as trivial curiosities and continued on the shelves of libraries and only looked at seldom as a book of magic which happily escaped the general conflagration and was sent to Europe in the 16th century, the only spirit left of the great Mexican Empire and was offered to the Catholic Majesty and was given by the King of Spain to several friendly Princes and journey into Italy France and Germany and to England and as before said remained unseen. Baron Humboldt was the first in his celebrated work on the Monuments of America remarked that it was deplorable that no government who possessed these rare and precious antiquities had had them published and insisted on their great importance, proclaimed the necessity of immediately publishing them to give facility for studying the customs and grandeur of the nation who occupied the territory of Mexico before the conquest.

This noble appeal created a immense sensation in all literary societies and engaged the sympathy in England of the learned and attracted the attention of Lord Kingsborough who saw the opportunity of realising his wishes and undertook the enormous expense of publishing them.

This idea [ The aim ] of the noble Lord, he ever ****, and with Aglio’s assistance he proposed to form a work in 4 volumes of the facsimiles of the Mexican Hieroglyphics which existed in Europe with notes and our artist undertook the work with the feeling of avoiding too great a labyrinth of theological discussion but it was found necessary to enlarge the last volume on account of voluminous notes as Lord Kingsborough wished to introduce his favourite theory that Mexico was colonised by the Jews.

The description of Aglio’s journeys on the continent to take facsimiles of the Mexican Hieroglyphics and manuscripts was compiles by Aglio himself and occupies a voluminous book in manuscript which he held the copy of.

Aglio left London in June 1825 and went direct to Paris and was fortunate in meeting at the Royal Library with the celebrated savant the Abbe de Remusat who introduced him to Baron Humboldt who immediately recognised the great ability of our artist, encouraged him in every way and gave him important letters of introduction for Germany which averting the difficulties likely to be met within Austria and Italy.

[ It is believed that the Abbe referred to is Jean-Pierre Abel Remusat, a French Sinologist (a student of far east languages) who became the editor of the Journal of Savants in 1818. The Italian translation refers to him as a philologist. The term ‘savant’ at that time was applied to a learned person. ]

Aglio went to Dresden and in 8 months completed the facsimile of the important list in that library and Aglio went on Jan 8th 1826 to Berlin and copied the rare fragments of Mexican Antiquities preserved in the private museum of the king from there in March he went to Vienna where finding a referral he presented his letter from Baron Humboldt to Prince Mettternich who introduced him to the minister who graciously granted permission, previous to which he had begun to doubt of his being able to make copies there. After having completed his work our artist went to Italy and sojourned a short time at his native town Cremona and was entertained by the influential people of that city particularly by Prince Vidoni who provided our artist with letters of recommendation to all the dignitaries of the Church at Rome. Having taken leave of his parents and family Aglio parted for Bologna 27th August when he tried all in his power to move the learned Mezzofanti persistently refused permission to proceed with the work ( from private motives as he had an idea himself of publishing the same manuscript with theological notes ) of making facsimiles of the Mexican Hieroglyphics in the library of the institute but Aglio notwithstanding Mezzofanti’s determined opposition received from a friend when in Rome an exact facsimile of the manuscripts. Although Aglio met with great difficulties with the Curia of Rome, thanks to the Cardinal Vidoni, the Marquis Castaguti nd other high personages Aglio finished in Jan1827 the facsimile of the Borgiano and was presented to Pope Leo 12th by the Cardinal and in consideration of the importance of the work and though the prayers of Cardinal, Aglio obtained permission to attend daily at the Vatican and also at the hours when the public were not admitted which enabled him rapidly to complete his copies.

The greater part of his time was occupied in reproducing the brilliant colouring of these manuscripts abut also with icons, using his time he produced also many pictures in oil and the following description written by Abbe Melchiorre Missirini was published in the Roman Newspaper ( No. 45 ) 6th June 1827

" Religious arts possesses a grandeur and majesty and nobleness and a force which attracts the intellect and ravishes the soul and addresses itself to every inner admiration.

This truth is proved by a picture of grand dimensions, the work of Agostino Aglio of Cremona representing the triumphal Entry of the Saviour with Palm Branches into Jerusalem. Our artist having visited Jerusalem, has introduced into his picture a correct view of the spot which at once gives it an air of truthfulness and the costumes at perfect. For one part of the picture in the Mount of Olives the Pool of Siloam and the City of Jerusalem is seen posted on its two hills. Our artist has enriched the picture with the proper plants of the country. Palm trees, date trees cacti all indigenous herbs and flowers in very variety presents as a whole a singular charm. All the various objects are admirably treated and produce a novel and wonderful effect.

In the centre of the picture the Divine Master followed by an immense crowd exhibits a peaceful picture of joy and cheerfulness. The fame of his arrival has proceeded him and a band of people come over to meet him. Some throw their garments to smooth the path others in deep devotion prostrate themselves, others with surprise regard the spectacle and follow the Miraculous Redeemer.

In an are distinguished the Nazarene features and the Samaritan costume. But besides these admirable effects our artist has chosen the time of the sun at its meridian and envelopes the Saviour in one blaze of light which invests him with a greater appearance of triumph. The whole picture is so well conceived that notwithstanding the number of interesting features the tout ensemble is not broken but is perfectly harmonised and is grand and beautiful whether viewed near or at a distance. Such a grand work so ably conceived and painted ought to remain in the capital of the seat of Religion."

This work was exhibited several months in Mr.Severn’s studio (Painter Vicolo de’ Maroniti) and we find in a letter addressed to Dr. Luigi Aglio 10th Aug 1845 at the end of which it says

"We hope that the picture painted in Rome has been purchased by the Cardinal Vidoni for his nephew the Prince and that the work is not destined for London "

but we do not know who is in actual possession of it. Leaving Rome with Luigi Aglio he returned to Milan to consult some manuscripts belonging to a friend after which he was, for want of time, constrained to proceed to Paris. At first the work was confined to 5 volumes but the important acquisition of the unedited works of Guglielmo Dupraix of the Ancient Monuments of Central America illustrated by beautiful designs by Castenneda and the manuscript of the Hieroglyphics of Mexican of Mr Fejervary di Pesth and not only Lord Kingsborough being pressed to include the famous history of Mexico of the Priests of Sahagun unedited since 1570 caused the work continually to assume larger proportions and ofter two years devoted to this gigantic work it at last saw the light in June 1830 in 7 Large volumes containing also all that Lord Kingsborough had himself collected which after his death was published in two separate volumes.

Notwithstanding political events and particularly with respect to Poland the press of Europe hailed with enthusiasm this magnificent work. Numerous articles were written acknowledging the beautiful hieroglyphics illustrations and in every country proclaimed the success of this grand work but all unanimously embattled and condemned Lord Kingsborough’s ideas as set forth in his notes but all awarded to Aglio the praise due to his indefatigable perseverance in this publication.

[ This odd sentence seems to mean, when translated from the Italian Biography

‘ unanimously fought against and criticised Lord Kingsborough’s strange ideas developed in his notes… ]

The following appeared in the Literary magazine ( Vol. 100 part 2 page 335 ) which brief account is a sample of the English press opinion generally and offers interesting details respecting to work

" The investigation of American Antiquities offers a wide and interesting field for investigation though great difficulties present themselves to the enquirer, being a most extensive study and most difficult to penetrate. The honourable Lord Kingsborough, the learned lover of Antiquities, and Signor Aglio, an artist of high talent and ability, has penetrated the mystery after 5 years of incessant labours had collected all the manuscripts existing in Europe and has produced a magnificent work which contains the hieroglyphic manuscripts of the Vatican, of Bologna, Dresden, of Vienna, of Pesth, of Paris, of the Bodliean at Oxford and of Berlin and has paved the way for some day to conduct to their final interpretation .

This great work presents for certain a perfect collection of all which concerns the obscure theme of Mexican Antiquities. The edition is in grand large Imperial ( called elephant ) the first 4 volumes contain 6000 plates the other 3 volumes contain the text in Spanish Italics and French and Lord Kingsborough added his notes in the English introduction. It will give some idea of the magnificence of the work to know that the cost of the work plain is 3000 francs and 5000 francs if coloured. There are only 200 copies published which cost the noble Lord 1,200,000 francs. The execution of the work is above praise for the diagrams are beautifully executed and are perfect imitations, the topography is stupendous and most sumptuous.

[ the cost in English currency of the time are reported as £120 and £175 ]

Two copies on Parchment were presented by Lord Kingsborough, one to the British Museum and the other to the Royal Library of Paris and cost 78,000 francs. For fact it is a royal work we are describing a work placing before the learned the ancient temples and has received the splendid patronage of the most powerful princes and realises the wishes of Baron Humboldt and opens the way for the enlightenment of the scholar, the theologian and the Philosopher and to the Scientific to deduce from their abstruse study, new problems of cosmogony and languages."

The work was not more than complete when Aglio was surprised by a mishap cruelly undeserved. Lord Kingsborough had always fancied there would be great profits and always said he did not intend to take all the profits for himself but would be satisfied with 20 coloured copies and unfortunately means were limited and the enormous expense he was at from year to year at length obliged him to suspend all further payments and our artist was compelled to accept for the balance of his account a Bill for 38000 francs 4 years date [ payable in 4 years with 5% per year ] which Aglio was unable to get discounted except at an enormous sacrifice in order to obtain the honour of his name.

The death of the noble Lord in Ireland was dreadful catastrophe and was a great blow to Aglio’s sad position.

"Privation poverty misery and work of mind and body and the loss of his labours was his only remuneration" Aglio writes in his autobiography. "which his more influential creditors sequested the complete set of works I only received a small dividend and remained the victim of any good faith."

[ Direct quote : "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. ……." ]

On completion of this period so interesting in the character of our painter we must rest much to mention what he did while travelling on the continent and on his return to London he undertook a literary work written in between 1828 and 1831 but left unfinished. The difficulty of getting aid from Lord Kingsborough while Aglio was in Germany obliged him to exercise his talents and took sketches during his journey of the scenery all of which he collected in a magnificent album now in the possession of his son. He also painted pictures in oil during his stay in Dresden and Vienna. In London although occupied in printing the Mexican Hieroglyphics he painted 1829 a new work in fresco at the residence of the Duke of Bedford, Woburn Abbey, and was commissioned by a Lord whose name has escaped my memory and painted a large picture in oil representing Jesus restoring sight to the blind for which he was paid 8000 francs and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy and obtained great praise.

After the end of the year 1828, as there wanted [ to be ] an introduction to his great work, Aglio proposed to supply this deficiency with an other of the manuscripts with the original of the hieroglyphics but was met with indignation by his Mecenate [ Patron ] and he extinguished the idea.

On the death of Lord Kingsborough, all obstacles ceased to the publication of the work, with a short preface, of the interesting account of our artist which had been collected, but it obliged Aglio to alter the form and to enlarge the work secretly undertaken. He did not ignore the fact that the great price of the original work was a barrier to lovers of antiquities, almost insurmountable. In consequence he initiated the publication of one edition at a high cost but having received a pressing invitation from the corporation of Manchester to execute frescoes in the Town Hall he deferred the completion of the work. Returning to London in a year, he continued to enrich his work with copies additions and illustrations from his manuscript but his intimate friends dissuaded him from circulating the publication. The manuscript of 70 pages with 14 leaves contained the key to the hieroglyphics. Aglio in his later years treated on painting in fresco in a large volumous quarto with the following inscription:

(see page 27) [ of the Italian book]

Cogitationes Vespertinoe coeptoe anno l827 Augustini

Marioe AElij, vulgo Aglio, Pittoris Cremonensis et continuatoe
sequentibus annis.