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Agostino Aglio in a Historical context

1777 –1857

Artist born in Cremona

Taken from  The Life and Times of the Dibdin - Aglio Family

Agostino Aglio from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

More details regarding Agostino Aglio


 Agostino Aglio was born in Cremona in Lombardy in 1777, 40 years after the death of Stradivari, the famous violin luthier of that town. According to Giuseppe Grasselli who wrote an encyclopaedia of Artists, Sculptors and Architects of the town in 1827, there must have been over 300 such individuals from the area over the years.


 His father, Gaetano Aglio was a notary, that is a lawyer of the time and when Agostino was about ten years old, the family moved to Milan. In this respect it is hard to accept that he was an artist of Cremona. He had a good classical education in a religious establishment and his artistic skills showed themselves at an early age, particularly all over his school work books.

He was the only surviving child of four, one brother and two sisters dying of small pox.

Although we would say that Agostino was from Italy, the country at that time did not exist as such and the Northern states of the peninsula were under the control of the “Holy Roman Empire”, centred in Austria. It seems that the control of Austria extended from over the Alps and some way down through what we now know as Italy. It, at various times, would have had control over Venetia, Tuscany, Lombardy  as well as most of central Europe.

From his autobiography we have that Agostino met a couple of the Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II and that his talents were recognised so that at the age of 12 years that he was granted a “stall” in the Imperial College, Ghislieri at the University of Pavia by Leopold II for when he was of age.

This opportunity was lost because of the invading armies of the French Revolution.

The writings that we have relevant to Aglio do not give much insight into the state of Europe at the time, however we do have this from his autobiography:

“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.”

It may be of interest to ponder on the state of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and think about some of the leading figures of the time particularly those in the broadly artistic world.

A glance through the time line for this period suggests that there are any number of events and people that may have influenced Aglio and the direction that his career and life developed, so there is no reason to home in on the French Revolution and Napoleon’s activities around Europe, but it must be said that these were far reaching for many people. When Aglio was a child it seems that the “Holy Roman Empire” loomed large and so his meeting the Emperor, presumably through his father’s connections would have been of great significance. The French Revolution in 1789 and what it stood for, had an immense impact of the thinkers and artist of the time. Beethoven who was born seven years before Aglio was deeply moved and hopeful for the revolution and it is said that he started writing his 3rd Symphony in 1803 for Napoleon although, when the later declared himself Emperor he scribbled out his name and called the piece Eroica. Beethoven had been greatly affected by the work of Schiller particularly the Play  “The Robbers” produced in 1781. Schiller raised many disturbing issues in the play. For instance, he questioned the dividing lines between personal liberty and the law and probed the psychology of power, the nature of masculinity and the essential differences between good and evil. He strongly criticized both the hypocrisies of class and religion and the economic inequities of German society. He also conducted a complicated inquiry into the nature of evil.

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in 1807 was intended as a celebration of the Revolution, with echoes of La Marseillaise within the music, but by this time Napoleon had occupied Vienna, Beethoven’s home town since 1992, and the way that the Viennese people were treated by the French soldiers distressed him greatly.


It is hard to envisage the state of Europe at the time when Aglio wrote about his encounter with the revolution and subsequent illness and then trip to Rome. His dip into the world of revolution in 1797 seemed such a short spell against what was still happening, as has been indicated above. When in Rome he set out to learn to paint, working with Campovecchio, and became involved in the artistic world of the time.

Text Box:   Angelica Kauffmann  1741- 1807
self portrait

Angelica Kauffman, a Neoclassical Painter, who, in 1768, was a founding member of the Royal Academy in England, obviously had a considerable impact on Agostino and it was through her and her friends, in particular Canova, the Neoclassical sculptor, that he obtained a introduction to the architect Wilkins of Cambridge University who wished to be accompanied by an working artist while travelling in Magna Grecia.


The History of Art would refers to this period of creativity as the Romantic Period and it is not too difficult to understand why. Europe was in a state of war and revolution, artists were painting either heroic historical scenes or visions of classical mythology, reflecting and challenging the power of the time, and the interest in the Classical World and its stability created a desire to copy the past.

After a year or so travelling with Wilkins, Agostino Aglio emigrated to England with the promise of work in Cambridge in 1803.

It is noteworthy that Giovanni Battista Belzoni who was born in Padua within a year of Aglio, had his life, while in Rome, disrupted by the invasion of the French.  He fled to the Netherlands and then arrived in England in the same year as Aglio 1803. After further travels he established himself and his wife as archaeologists in Egypt sending items back to the British Museum.

There is every reason to believe that Aglio did some work for Belzoni as will be mentioned later.


What was life like in the England to which Aglio arrived as an immigrant?

George III was on the throne and presumable giving the impression of madness from time to time because of the illness, Porphyria. He had bought Buckingham House in 1762 and converted it into the Palace with the help of such as Dr. Johnson, Robert Adams and Josiah Wedgewood. It seemed that the aristocracy in England were going through the same state of indulgence as was seen in Continental Europe. In 1764 Mozart at the age of 12 years old had played in this country for Royalty and in 1770 Captain Cook had found Australia and New Zealand, claiming them for England and by so doing, generating further expansion to the British Empire.


George, the Prince of Wales, who seemed to personify indulgence itself had bought Carlton House in Pall Mall and commissioned  J.Constable, G.Stubbs, T.Lawrence, J.Reynolds, T.Gainsborough to work on the building and its decoration. Four years later he commissioned the building of the Brighton Pavilion. The Prince of Wales acquired a reputation for his dissolute way of life and when he had become Prince Regent in 1811, his behaviour did not improve.


Beau Brummell and George Prince of Wales



We have a first hand report of concern of a father within the family for his daughters when George and Beau Brummel visited a neighbour’s house in Central London. He felt that they would be safer in the countryside in Brixton.


It is no wonder that there were serious concerns that the revolutionary movement sweeping across Europe would reach England. Although we look now with a degree of pleasure and pride at the architecture of that time and enjoy the ability to walk from Regents Park to St. James’s Park via an impressive route, the state of London in Regency and Victorian times left much to be desired and, unlike Parks that were later installed for the general population, these were for the amusement of the aristocracy.

Later, we will look at how the successful artists of the day fitted into the geography of London and it did seem that they were pleased to settle and work in these more delightful parts of London.


We see the burgeoning world at which Agostino Aglio arrived in 1803. He was an immigrant with the promise of work. The fact that he had fought for Napoleon only a few years before must have been overlooked. The first person of authority that he met was Captain Walsh, an immigration officer and for whatever reason they were to become lifelong friends. The extent of their friendship was such that Aglio, while working for Wilkins in Cambridge, worked all night painting him a picture  which Wilkins did get framed for him. However Aglio at that time was made to feel somewhat as a slave to his academic master and was pleased to receive not only the following advice from Walsh,

but also help in getting away from Cambridge and starting an independent working life.


Text Box:  
Captain Walsh

“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.”


It seems that Wilkins had a particularly demanding manner which as reported by Aglio was an embarrassment even to his family.


The details of Aglio’s life’s work are well documented in his own autobiography and in a detailed biography (See details on Aglio page)as well as the timeline produced by his son Augustine so reference to work will be only in the context of what else was happening in the country.

Judging from his self portrait it would seem that Aglio was quiet a charming young man and within two years of arriving in London he had met Letitia Clarke and was married. Her exact circumstances are, at presence, unclear but it would seem that she was a lady of her own means and that her father may have been an Alderman of London.


This was in the same year as the Battle of Trafalgar and two years before Beethoven wrote the 5th symphony. How he felt about the English verses Napoleon conflict remains a puzzle. At the time that Aglio started a fully active working life in England as a painter of theatres, theatre scenery and country houses, it is worth noting that the steam engine as a vehicle was just being invented and the first passenger trains were not running until the 1830’s. Not only was he having to get around London, but also he travelled in those early years up to Yorkshire and later on to Manchester as well as Wales and Ireland. Time and again the considerations of travelling during the 1800’s comes to mind.


Early in his time in London he obtain work teaching aristocratic young ladies to paint.

In 1806 he worked in Drury Lane Theatre (The Theatre Royal) before it burnt down in 1809


and then in the same year the Majestic, later His Majesty’s Theatre


The Pantheon – Oxford Street The morning after the fire W.J.M.Turner


In 1811 he decorated the interior of the Pantheon when it was rebuilt after the fire of 1792.


Interior of the Pantheon



The Majestic Theatre later to become His Majesty’s
 in Haymarket


This work in the theatre world is of particular interest in a family context. At the same time as Agostino was busying himself decorating theatres and painting stage scenery it seems possible that he would have encountered two members of the Dibdin Family. Charles Dibdin was still living in London. He died in 1814 although his last major work was in 1811 in which he created the song “The Lass That Loves A Sailor”. As will be seen in a later chapter, his son Thomas John was busy during this period of time working in the London Theatres as well as elsewhere in the country and he too spent time painting scenery as well as managing theatres, acting and writing. His relationship with the Aglio Family was to be later through his grandson marrying Agostino’s granddaughter.



In 1807 Aglio decorated rooms in Ackworth near York and at Woolley Hall in the West Riding. He also found time to visit Killarney in Ireland, painting pictures and making etchings.


Woolley Hall


By 1812 he must have been well established as he and his wife were able to move into a new house in the development of St Edwardes Square in Kensington, very near to Earl’s Court.


He was in fact responsible for the design of the layout of the public gardens of the square following a very relaxed pattern of design with curves and apparently random trees and shrubbery.

Details of his house and the gardens will be looked at later in another chapter.



During the next few years Aglio decorated part of Woburn Abbey and again worked at Woolley Hall in Yorkshire. Travelling through England must have been quite a challenge at the time presumable using stage coaches.


Stage Coach


The reader is reminded that in 1815, at the Battle of Waterloo, the British defeated Napoleon and by so doing ended the idea of the French Empire and stopped hostilities in Europe for many years.


Traditional school history study in the mid twentieth century seemed to focus on wars, battles and the activity of royalty and so these topics had more significance that everyday life for the ordinary people of the world. It is through the biographies of artists and other observers of the times that we can broaden our insights into history.

It is interesting for a moment to try to consider the reality of life for Agostino Aglio and his family over those early years of his time in Italy and England. He like other artists and musicians of the time must have felt the impact of the injustice and oppression of their time created by the power structures and aristocracy.

The turmoil felt by Beethoven has already been mentioned at the time that he wrote the 3rd and 5th symphonies and one is reminded of Goya’s paintings, “The Second and Third of May 1808,” which he exhibited in 1814.

It would seem that these artists and artisans whose job it was to produce art for those that could afford it with portraits, landscapes, classical scenes and amuse the indulgent classes with pleasing music also felt the need to expressed their attitude towards the state of society at the time.



Even W.J.M. Turner who seemed to have made his living from patrons who generally were rich through exploitation, painting interesting landscapes, was moved in 1840 to pass serious social comment with his painting the Slave Ship as an expression of his disgust at what was happening in the name of British trade.


Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon coming on


Aglio must himself ,when young, have been swept up in the tide of revolution to have turned down a future education at the Holy Roman Emperor’s expense and go and fight for the possibility of a republic.  How did he feel when he like so many others, saw the way that people in power all behaved equally corrupt. After his time fighting and serious illness he did turn to developing his skills as an artist but it should be noted that he must have had an adventurous nature. In 1800 travelling cannot have been easy.

There were no trains, buses or cars.

The well known Stephenson’s Rocket which can be seen as the introduction of passenger train travel was not produced until about 1830.

Stephenson’s Rocket 1829


The only modes of transport must have been walking, horseback or stage coach with all the associated risks, caused by both natural and human intervention, of travelling across country.


The distance from Venice to Rome is about 350 miles a journey of about 6 hours by car, but how long would it take in 1800 with the challenge of crossing the Apennine Mountains.


With William Wilkins, obviously a man of means or well supported financially, he travelled another 500 or so miles to areas of Southern Italy, Magna Graecia, may be as far as Sicily.

In 1803 from Rome he then emigrated to England travelling by ship, leaving Leghorn ( Livorno) in Italy on 14th Sept 1803 and arriving in England on 13th Dec1803.


From the Sacchi Biography


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.

The ship used by Aglio to travel to England


Despite Agostino’s early rebellious ways, it seems that for the rest of his life, he seemed prepared, in the main, to direct his energies to working for and earning his living from the aristocracy and supposed aristocracy of this country and there is no further reference to revolutions. His adventurous nature never seemed to fade, as he was prepared to advertise his skills amongst the great and good and travel up and down England and even to Ireland. Most of this travel was carried out before the introduction of main line trains and the building of the London Railway stations.


Returning for the moment to a consideration of those first few years from1812 when Agostino and Letitia had their first child Emma Walsh Aglio, named after his first friend on arriving in England, Captain Walsh, and they had settled in Kensington.

At a social level, there was much of interest occurring and plenty of opportunity for the ambitious artist. The Regency Period had started with a flourish and Nash, the architect, was developing the geographical central band of London, from the new Regents Park down to Pall Mall for George, Prince Regent. In 1815 Nash also started an extension to Brighton Pavilion the building of which had been had been initiated in 1787.


In 1814 Aglio went up to paint the drawing room of Woolley Hall in Yorkshire for Godfrey Wentworth. It is difficult to imagine how long such a job would have taken and how long it took to travel up there from London and, for that matter, by what means.


It is noteworthy to mention the activities of two of Aglio’s countrymen in 1815. Canova, who have introduced Aglio to Wilkins in 1799 came to London and not only obtained work from George Prince Regent who was seriously into Classical art but also advised the British Museum to acquire the Elgin Marples with plaster cast copies to be sent back to Florence.


The works of Phidias are truly flesh and blood, like beautiful nature itself


 — Antonio Canova

Mars and Venus

Sculpture by Canova for George Prince Regent



Also while he was in England, Canova  met with Benjamin Haydon who was renowned  for painting classical historic paintings.


The other contemporary of Aglio, mentioned before was Belzoni, an outright adventurer and entrenpeneur.  He came to England at about the same time as Aglio but seemed to have taken a little longer to get settled. His journey to England was a little more torturous. In 1800 he had moved to the Netherlands where he earned a living as a barber but escaped to England to avoid jail. He started his time in England  working in a circus and with Magic Lanterns, and after his marriage to Sarah they went travelling.


In 1812 he left England and after a tour of performances in Spain, Portugal and Sicily, he went to Malta, in 1815, where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali, who at the time was undertaking a programme of agrarian land reclamation and important irrigation works. Belzoni wanted to show Muhammad Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. After this he embarked upon and archaeological career working with the British Museum. After his premature death in 1823, Sarah continued his work and there is evidence that Aglio must have worked with her, if not her husband, in some way as demonstrated by the etching produced by Aglio from a sketch by Sarah. There is evidence that Aglio did some engraving or etching work for the Belzonis, and perhaps for the British Museum.


Temple on the Road to Berenice 
A.Aglio after a drawing by Sarah Belzoni


There is no doubt that Giovanni Battista Belzoni, sometimes known as The Great Belzoni was an adventurer remarkable.


It can be understood why the Neoclasical was all the rage at the time and why it was that Aglio was, in 1821, asked to produce his book – The School of Ornamental Design with Hullmandel. A version of this is still available from Dover Publications.


Still working for the aristocracy, in 1921, he painted the doorway for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey and must have related  well with the family as ten years later he produced his book of 50 sketches of Trees and Forest Scenery dedicated to Georgina Elizabeth Russell and Louisa Jane Russell daughters of John Russell the 6th Duke of Bedford..

Two copies were printed


Dukes of Bedford not only owned Woburn Abbey but also the Bedford Estate in London that included the main Bedford Estate originally extended between Tottenham Court Road, Euston Road, Southampton Row, and New Oxford Street.[2] There were also two separate parts on the other side of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road. To the south, the Covent Garden Estate north of the Strand was also part of the Bedford Estate.
Garden squares in the main Bedford Estate include:
Bedford Square, Bloomsbury Square, Gordon Square, Russell Square, Tavistock Square, Torrington Square, Woburn Square




In 1824, he embarked upon his work with Lord Kingsborough, or rather Viscount Kingsborough, an Irish aristocrat to produce accurate facsimiles of original Mexican documents from before the Spanish conquest of the Americas.


This work started by him drawing Mexican Antiquities for William Bullock for display in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly.


The work of copying Mexican Antiquities took up some years of Aglio’s time and must have had serious implications for his domestic life. Not only was he travelling on the continent for some time but the flow of money was not as it should have been. Looking back at that whole period of time it must have been, although interesting, a very ignominious experience. A summary of the whole Mexican Antiquities saga is documented on the website and will be explored in detail in a study by Professor Hook, however it is worth, here, giving an inkling of the drama and some insight into the characters.


The Drama of the Mexican Antiquities

William Bullock (c. 1773 - 1849)


William Bullock (c. 1773 - 1849) was an English traveller, naturalist and antiquarian. Bullock began as a goldsmith and jeweller in Sheffield. He used his wealth to accumulate a large collection of artefacts, antiquities and stuffed animals. In the late 1790s Bullock founded a Museum of Natural Curiosities in the city, which moved to Liverpool in 1801.

The Egyptian Hall was also  referred to as the London Museum or Museum, or Bullock's Museum.
The Hall was a considerable success, with an exhibition of Napoleonic era relics in 1816 including Napoleon's carriage taken at Waterloo being seen by about 220,000 visitors; Bullock made £35,000. In 1819, Bullock sold his ethnographical and natural history collection at auction and converted the museum into an exhibition hall. Subsequently the Hall became a major venue for the exhibiting of works of art; it had the advantage of being almost the only London venue able to exhibit really large works. Usually admission was one shilling. In 1820, The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault was exhibited from 10 June until the end of the year, rather overshadowing Benjamin Robert Haydon's painting, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, on show in an adjacent room; Haydon rented rooms to show his work on several occasions. In 1821, exhibitions included Giovanni Battista Belzoni's show of the tomb of Seti I in 1821, and James Ward's gigantic Allegory of Waterloo. In 1822, a family of Laplanders with their reindeer were imported to be displayed in front of a painted backdrop, and give short sleigh-rides to visitors. . The Hall became especially associated with watercolours. The old Water-Colour Society exhibited there in 1821–22, and it was hired by Charles Heath to display the watercolours commissioned by from Joseph Mallord William Turner forming Picturesque Views in England and Wales. Turner exhibited at the Hall for a number of years and it was also used as a venue for exhibitions by the Society of Painters in Water Colours.



It was through this work that Aglio met up with Kingsborough and Sir Thomas Phillipps and start work for the publication of several volumes of facsimiles.

In about 1824 he became involved in the work to be published as The Antiquities of Mexico in seven volumes: comprising Fac-Similes of Ancient American Paintings and Hieroglyphics. This work involved copying manuscripts from various sources throughout Europe including The Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Imperial Library in Vienna, the royal libraries of Paris, Berlin and Dresden and the Vatican Library. The price at the time was £120 and £175 coloured.

Aglio spent, on and off, a period of six years on this project  which entailed travelling to the various libraries and museums in Europe over three to four years. He visited his home town, Cremona, in 1825. In 1827 he visited Paris and spent time in London.

Aglio’s autobiography and other documents indicate that money was always an issue and that his wife probably had to survive and bring up the family thanks to her own means.


Example of the facsimile painting by Agostino Aglio.

Sir Thomas Phillipps

Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1st Baronet (2 July 1792 – 6 February 1872) was an English antiquary and book collector who amassed the largest collection of manuscript material in the 19th century, due to his severe condition of bibliomania. He was the illegitimate son of a textile manufacturer who inherited a substantial estate which he spent almost entirely on vellum manuscripts, and in doing so put his family into debt. Phillipps recorded in an early catalogue that his collection "was instigated by reading various accounts of the destruction of valuable manuscripts."

Lord Kingsborough

Edward King, Viscount Kingsborough (16 November 1795–27 February 1837), usually known as Lord Kingsborough, was an Irish antiquarian who sought to prove that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were a Lost Tribe of Israel. His principal contribution was in making available facsimiles of ancient documents and some of the earliest explorers' reports on Pre-Columbian ruins and Maya civilization. However, these were presented in the context of his highly speculative theories, now known to be erroneous.

The eldest son of George King, 3rd Earl of Kingston, Lord Kingsborough represented Cork County in parliament.

In 1831, Lord Kingsborough published the first volume of Antiquities of Mexico, a collection of copies of various Mesoamerican codices, including the first complete publication of the Dresden Codex. The exorbitant cost of the reproductions, which were often hand-painted, landed him in debtors' prison. These lavish publications represented some of the earliest published documentation of the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica, inspiring further exploration and research by John Lloyd Stephens and Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg in the early 19th century. They were the product of early theories about non-indigenous origins for Native American civilizations that are also represented in the Book of Mormon (1830) and myths about mound builders of Old World ancestry in North America.

On 27 February 1837, Lord Kingsborough died in prison of typhus, two years before he would have inherited his father's title. The last two volumes of Antiquities of Mexico were published posthumously.

The Codex Kingsborough is named after him.

Reference from the British Museum suggests that during that time he must have been based with his family at 48 Berner's Street and then 36 Newman Street.  (1820/1) , (1831)

The final work was published in seven volumes in 1831, but the outcome of this work was a very sad affair resulting in Aglio’s bankruptcy and Kingsborough’s death of Typhus in debtors jail in Ireland.

The Antiquities of Mexico
The Aglio - Kingsborough Affair. 1824 – 1836

A Summary

The history of events is currently being researched at Bristol University by Professor David Hook who is adding to the scholarship of Professor Ian Graham’s work in the 1970’s.
Before coming to England in 1803, Agostino had been on a trip to Sicily, Greece and Egypt with Mr. William Wilkins to draw Antiquities. It is clear that, by nature, he must have had an eye for copying in fine detail.

The handwritten notes of the time written by his son indictate the extent of his time in Europe.
By 1831 the work was published and reviewed in "The Monthly Review January to April 1831" and "The Foreign Quarterly Review January and May 1832".

Sir Thomas Phillipps, an English antiquary and book collector, with the largest collection of books in the 19th century, supported the project from the very early days and it seems that by 1831 he and Lord Kingsborough were involved in litigation with Aglio. In 1832 Aglio still had not been paid for all his work and then he became embroiled in  actions against Kingsborough by stationers in 1832 and 1833 requiring thousands of pounds for the supply of paper for printing the manuscripts. It seems that during this time was a Petition to the Court of Chancery against Aglio by Kingsborough.

A 42 page document written by Aglio and letters between Aglio and Kingsborough at the time give considerable insight it the whole sad affair in which both went bankrupt. Kingsborough ending up in Debtor’s jail three times, finally dying of typhus in 1837. Sir Thomas Phillipps, who has been described as a bibliomaniac and who was planning to buy copies of Mexican Antiquities, was part responsible for the problems as there were some outstanding payments..

These events are being documented within an up to date study of Sir Thomas Phillipps by Professor David Hook of Bristol University

The role of the internet in the unravelling of the history of this affair is of no little significance. Through these web pages David Hook saw that information about A.Aglio was available, more precisely -A Hand written document by AA about his work on Mexican Antiquities "Correct Statement of the transactions between A.Aglio artist and Lord Kingsborough on the work of the Mexican Antiquities from its commencement to its conclusion of the work." and letters between Aglio and Kingsborough.

It is left to further work to give the full details of the affair, however history suggests that in the words of David Hook "Agostino Aglio emerges from all this as a sincere and open individual, probably too trusting given the people he was dealing with. Not one to challenge people to duels and punch a bailiff, unlike his 'patron'." 

Very many thanks to Professor David Hook ( retired from Bristol University) for much of this information and support.

He has been researching and writing about the whole issue for some years from Kingsborough point of view and on the basis of

a document written by Aglio to his lawyer had to take another view of the main players in the game.

While on the continent Aglio painted a large picture representing Christ restoring sight to the blind which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the same year as J.W.M.Turner exhibited the Loretto Necklace



and John Constable exhibited the painting of Hadleigh Castle.

While in Europe he must have done many if not all of the drawings for the book of 50 sketches of Trees and Forest Scenery dedicated to Georgina Elizabeth Russell and Louisa Jane Russell.


The year this was published, 1931, George III died and the Prince Regent took on the Crown as George IV, so socially London life continued much as before or perhaps more so.

For the next three years Aglio was decorating Manchester Town Hall with frescoes. It was as late as 1835 that there was a complete railway connection from Manchester to London so that while doing the Town Hall work Aglio would have had to travel by horse or coach and horses.

Letters indicate that the Aglio family was living in Manchester for a while and that Augustine was probably helping his father perhaps doing some of the administration and maybe the painting.


In fact we have letters that indicate that he and the family were living near Manchester and during that time the issues between Aglio and Kingsborough were coming to a head with the later asking Aglio to send his wife and son over to Dublin to collect cash owed. No mean feat at such a time.

Not only did Kingborough die in 1837 thereby closing the whole saga that started in 1825 but also King George IV died opening the door to a new era within Britain, The Victorian Age.

At that time. Manchester was not only a centre of large industrial and scientific development but also the city was striving to see itself as a cultural centre. In 1857, the year that Aglio died Manchester held an enormous exhibition “The Art Treasures of Great Britain” with over 16,000 works on display.

The Neoclasical Town Hall that Aglio decorated was replaced in 1877 by one decorated by Ford Madox Brown.


It may have been during this period that Aglio’s daughter, Emma Walsh, got romantically associated with Captain Walsh’s son Francis Augustine. Within a couple of years, in 1838, they were married in Manchester and young Walsh went on to fulfil a significant role in the field of health and poverty in Manchester. 

Aglio seems to have been in the swim with well known and respected artists of the time, enough to have got the work doing a portrait of the new Queen and later other engravings or etchings relating to the coronation.

This new era seemed to have bust forth with the introduction of Railways, the opening of Euston Station, the first mainline station opened in any capital city in the world.


The 1840’s brought a considerable amount of work doing large paintings for “Gentlemen in Yorkshire” leading up to a very busy time involved with an exhibition at Westminster Hall in 1843 and subsequent work for Buckingham Palace.


This was a major venture involving a number of artists. It seems quite clear that there was an Art Establishment and leaders in the field.

This project to paint the Summerhouse at Buckingham Palace is discussed in detail.


George IV had established the idea of a National Gallery in 1824 while he was Prince Regent and The Royal Academy had been formed in 1768.




A study of the letters to Aglio and research by Daniel Boeckmann gives a fascinating insight into the painting activities of a number of artists at the time. It should be remembered that Agostino was by this time at the age of 66 and yet was still taking on commissions right up to the age of seventy one when he took on, with the help of his son Augustine, the decoration of the Olympic Theatre, which opened in December 1849,.


During that year he had a stroke causing paralyses so he had to use his left hand to execute the watercolours that he did up to his death in 1857.



Within the archives are many prints, most of which are probably stone lithographs including some in colour.

Some are directly associated with Aglio but many have been printed by Hullmandel.

It is known that the two worked together. The book of Ornamental Decoration drawn by Aglio, with one drawing by Pugin, and 3 by Hullmandel was printed and published by Hulmandel.


There are a number of prints from W.Gooding Colman’s book of drawing of churches in Normandy produced for the Duke of Rutland in about 1838. William Gooding Colman was an architect of the time.


It is quoted that T.C.Dibdin was also involved in the early days of Lithography. So some of the archive may have derived from him.


 The Roman Catholic Connection


Coming from Italy, it would be reasonable to assume that Agostino was a Roman Catholic however the only reference that we have to his religions life is the comment in his autobiography that he was christened in the Baptistry of the Duomo in Cremona and that he was educated by a religious order. At the end of his autobiography he states
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 !”  …. “May God prosper and bless my children is the prayer of the afflicted”


There is a myth within the family that he, during his time in Italy, fell out with some senior person at the Vatican who imposed a curse on him and his desendants. This is not to unlikely bearing in mind that after his revolutionary activities Aglio was in Rome and communication with Cardinals and the like as well as such artists as Campovechio, Kauffman and Canova. 

At the age of 26 years old and having fought for the Revolution one can imagine that he would have be fairly critical of the indulgence and injustice within the Holy Roman Church. It would be quite likely that he would loose respect for the religious establishment.

As the story goes the oldest son of each generation was to die tragically until such a time that the family returned to the church.

For the record it can be noted that Agostino’s first grandson died at the age of one. Lionel Dibdin the eldest son of Marian Dibdin nee Aglio died in a plane crash in 1933 and his son Peter died in military accident in 1944. Also it has been found that Agostino had by Letitia a son that died in childhood and that his first born son by three days was illegitimate. To date the life of this child, Peter Augustine Algio, has not been traced.

The myth did take hold within the family.

It should also be remembered that Aglio spent some years of his life, hand painting copies of Mexican Antiquities involving painting and hieroglyphics relating to the Mexican culture before the Spanish Conquest and its destruction by the Spanish Inquisition. There is a whole Appendix in Aglio’s biography relating to a  Father Bernardino Sahgun (1499-1590 ) who, it seems, had respected the Mexican culture and endeavoured to stop the Antiquities from being destroyed through religious fervour.


Whatever his view of the Roman  Catholic Church and bearing in mind his wife was probably a member of the Church of England, he did still hold to his faith in God judging from comments in his autobiography. Also the new Catholic establishment must have considered him suitable a person to paint one of their churches in Moorfields.


He arrived in England at a time when the country was fundamentally protestant but when there was an easing of the laws against Catholics. There were relief acts 1778, 1791, 1793 and finally 1829 although there was a violent reaction to the first one in 1780 when there was a week of riots in London. These anti-catholic riots “The Gordon Riots” were virtually like a civil war and caused an immense amount of damage. The military was eventually brought in and in all there were 285 people shot, 200 wounded and 450 arrested.


The military activity over this period of history has been mentioned elsewhere however it is worth re-iterating that at the time of these riots, Britain was fighting the rebels in America following the Declaration of Independence as well as the French, the Spanish and the Dutch, and was desperately hanging onto its Colonies.


Amongst the damage during the riots was a chapel in Ropemakers Alley, Moorfields which had been, by 1820, rebuilt, nearby, as St.Mary’s Church in Finsbury Square, Moorfields. In 1819 Aglio painted in fresco much of the church and returned in 1837 to paint the Altar picture. 


This church was designed by John Newman in a very classical style, which would have suited Aglio and was seriously criticized by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin for not reminding him of his ancient religion.


Records show that Aglio’s three children were baptised in St James Anglican Church in Piccadilly.


The last paragraph of his Autobiography probably sums up the man.

“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]”


Notes and comment: see appendix for details

Very recently three new significant points regarding the life of Aglio have surfaced.

·         Agostino Aglio was committed to Kings Bench Prison 13 Jun 1811 ( owing £104.0.0 to James Newman ) discharged from Prison 1812

·         Ancestry records show that Agostino and Letitia had a son John William Emily (Emilius) Aglio baptised at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington on 5 July 1820. We have no date of birth but it may be assumed that he was born a few weeks before baptism. This is the first reference found to another son and sadly he died a couple of years later in 1922.


·         Ancestry records show that in the same month that Augustine was born, Augustine (Agostino) Aglio and Jane Tomlinson, presumably a lover or mistress,  had a son Peter Augustine Aglio born on 11th Oct 1816 and baptised  28 Oct 1816 at St Marylebone , Westminster.


What a busy time he must have had!  The ancestry record referring to this event was found in Aug.2016 and before this time there had never been any mention of a mistress or lover. The implications of a child of marriage and a love child born in the same month are amazing.