Background to Aglio Letters


This article, based on the archived letters found relating to the two Aglios not only gives some further background to their lives and activities but also is an interesting exercise in name dropping.

This is useful in so far as it give some idea of the people that they associated with and for what reasons. With some imagination one can get some idea of the lives of the two artists in the mid 1800’s.

This article is supported by a database of all the letters and facsimiles of the whole set 

It is difficult in some instances to identify with any confidence to which of the two Aglios a letter is referring as Agostino was at times happy to be referred to as Augustine and many people did not distinguish between the two.

Dates and topics help with this matter but there can be no absolute certainty in the case of many letters. 

Time line to put letters in context


Aglio Family History
Other dates in the art world



J.M.W.Turner born 



John Constable born


Agostino Aglio born



Agostino came to England



Agostino married Letitia Clarke



A.A painted Woolley Hall



T.C.Dibdin born



A.A. moved in at Edwards Square

Charles Dickens born


Augustine born



Agostino had daughter Emma Walsh



Agostino had daughter Mary Elizabeth



Start of Mexican Antiquities work




Millias born.  He died in 1896


Finished Mexican Antiquities work



Manchester Town Hall




Gustave Dore born –died 1883


T.C.Dibdin married Ann Alice Jones

 T.C.Dibdin died 1893


Lord Kingsborough died in debtors jail

Constable died


The Vase project - Augustine's

Monet born. He died in 1926


Westminster Hall Cartoon - Fresco



Buckingham Palace work



Oil Painting competition £1000 –Baptism of  Our Lord



A.A. painted Woolley Hall



Augustine married Margaret Absolon



Agostino - Illness Stroke - paralysed - used Left Hand



Augustine had daughter - Letitia

Pre-Raphaelites founded


William Joseph Dibdin born



Augustine had daughter -Marian

Turner died


Augustine sets up in photography



Augustine had daughter -Mysie



Agostino died




Charles Dickens died



Impressionists working in France



Monet painted the Thames



London published Drawings by Gustave Dore


W.J.Dibdin married Marian Aglio



Augustine died


 The significance of the "Other dates in the Art World" may become apparent in a later article.



Earliest identifiable letter 1828

Latest letter 1879 to John Absolon

The letters are group into six main blocks roughly associated with periods of time

Various letters including those of unknown dates or context

001 - 013

Work with Kingsborough 1828 –

021 - 033

The Vase Project

041 - 051

Buckingham Palace work and Westminster Hall competition

061 - 096

The Baptism of Our Lord Competition Period

097 - 108

Later letters

109 - 120

There is a collection of Italian letters on notepaper from the Erechthium Club
The Erechthium is a marble temple on the Acropolis at Athens.

Dramatis Personae

(17 November 1793 – 24 December 1865) was an English painter, gallery director, collector and writer of the early 19th century. In 1843 he became the National Gallery's first Keeper in 1843,

(3 June 1794 – 20 Jan 1860) was an English portrait and portrait miniature painter of Scottish descent; early in his career, he was known for historical paintings. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1842.[1] The Westminster Hall competition of 1843 led him to turn his hand once more to historical composition.

Daniel Maclise
(25 January 1806 – 25 April 1870) was an Irish history, literary and portrait painter, and illustrator, who worked for most of his life in London, England. Maclise was commissioned in 1846 to paint murals in the House of Lords on such subjects as Justice and Chivalry.[

Soloman Alexander Hart 1806-1881
was a British painter and engraver. He was the first Jewish member of the Royal Academy in London and was probably the most important Jewish artist working in England in the 19th century. A member of the Camden Society

Charles R.Leslie – RA (19 October 1794 – 5 May 1859)
was an English genre painter. Painted “Amy Robsart” 1833-1836 - actress in the play ( see envelope.) Amy Robsart was acted February 13, 1828, at the Odéon, under the management of M. Sauvage. Although it was agreed that Victor Hugo's name should not be pronounced, some chance phrase or some indiscretion betrayed him, and the manager, overjoyed, lost no time in spreading the report that the drama was written by the author of Cromwell. Victor Hugo remonstrated in vain; the manager, seeing that the name was a drawing card, continued to cry it from the house-tops.

Leslie spent time in America, his parent birth place, but was in England to witness and paint Queen Victoria's coronation. Various small landscapes followed. After the death of his friend, the painter John Constable, Leslie collected materials and wrote the first biography on the painter, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable in 1843  

Hogg - Unknown

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA FRS (13 April 1769 – 7 January 1830) 
was a leading English portrait painter and the fourth president of the Royal Academy.  

Sydney Smirke (1798 – 8 December 1877) 
was a British architect who was born in London, England, the younger brother of Sir Robert Smirke, also an architect. Their father, also Robert Smirke, had been a well-known 18th-century painter. He wrote to Godfrey Wentworth recommending Aglio

Harrison William Weir
(5 May 1824 – 3 January 1906), known as "The Father of the Cat Fancy", was an English gentleman and artist. He wrote to John Absolon 

Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
The Prince Adolphus, 1st Duke of Cambridge KG GCB GCMG GCH PC (Adolphus Frederick; 24 February 1774 – 8 July 1850), was the 10th child and 7th son of George III and Queen Charlotte.  

Earl of Shrewsbury - Alton Towers
John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, 16th Earl of Waterford (1791–1852) was a British peer and aristocrat. Sometimes known as "Good Earl John", he has been described as "the most prominent British Catholic of his day", although he was the last Earl of Shrewsbury to follow the Catholic faith. John was also Lord High Steward of Ireland, an office the Earls of Shrewsbury have held since 1446. 

Eyre Crowe (1824–1910) 
was an English painter, principally of historical art and genre scenes, but with an interest in social realism. He was born in London but grew up in France. He was the eldest son of the journalist Eyre Evans Crowe and brother of the journalist, diplomat and art historian Joseph Archer Crowe (whose son, also Eyre Crowe became an important diplomat)  

was later a significant member of the Treasury

obviously worked in the Treasury

Lady Warwick The Stables St James Palace
Married to Greville 4th Earl of Warwick. He served as honorary colonel to the Warwickshire Yeomanry cavalry, and as A.D.C. to Queen Victoria.

Charles Samuel Keene (10 August 1823 – 4 January 1891)
was an English artist and illustrator, who worked in black and white. Worked for the Illustrated London News. – maybe did sketches for Aglio  but unlikely to be this artist.

Lady Cottenham died 1866
was married to Earl of Cottenham, second son of William Pepys related to Sam Pepys

Sam Redgrave
Wrote The Dictionary of English Painters Artists 1st and 2nd Edition

George Raphael Ward
Artist and mezzotint print maker wrote to Aglio about being Chair of the Institute of Fine Arts

Edward King, Viscount Kingsborough (16 November 1795 – 27 February 1837)
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 civilisation.



The Kingsborough Affair

Letters 021 - 035

This was an ignominious business and is well documented elsewhere, on the website and Professor David Hook has researched this in detail and has written on the subject

In summary:
In 1824, Agostino Aglio obtained the job of producing hand painted facsimiles of documents acquired from Mexico by the Spanish conquerors. To do this he spent four years in major libraries in Europe. Money was always a problem, as he mentions in his autobiography;

“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.”

In about 1934 he became bankrupt thanks to the Kingsborough affair and to mismanagement over the work for Manchester Town Hall

“Here again my ignorance in business played against me,..”

The correspondence starts back in 1828 between Kingsborough and a Sir Thomas Lawrence

Regarding the displaying of an Aglio Painting in the Royal Academy. Despite some serious pleading by Kingsborough on Aglio’s behalf Lawrence refused giving various reasons.

Later letters are between Kingsborough and Aglio from 1934 to 1936 which is a year before Kingborough died in debtors jail, or just out of it, in Ireland. It seems that during some of this time, 1831 to 1834, Aglio and his family were living near Manchester while he decorated the Manchester Town Hall, and Kingsborough endeavoured to get Aglio to send his wife over to Ireland to collect money owed. Judging from letters of that time it was the Assignees (Bancrupcy Administrators) that then had to struggle to get money owed from Kingsborough. At this time Augustine Aglio would have been about 15 -18 years old and probably was helping his father with the work, as he did a few years later with the Olympic Theatre in 1849.

Elsewhere are examples of drawings of Manchester dignitaries  done by Agostino Aglio presumably during this period.

It is interesting to note that, at the time, Francis Augustine Walsh, the son of a close friend of Agostino, was working in Manchester as Secretary to the Irish Distress Committee and then as Secretary to the Manchester Board of Health. He married Aglio’s daughter, Emma Walsh Aglio in 1838. The use of middle names in indicatory of the high esteem held been Aglio and Walsh.

The full Walsh story is available  and within Aglio’s Autobiography.

The Vase

Letters 041 – 051

The letters to Augustine Aglio (Junior) in 1840 refer to people being unable to purchase a copy or subscribe to his work with a Vase. Research indicates that this may have been about the production of a copy of a Medici Vase proposed by Augustine Aglio!!

It is assumed that these letters were to the son, Augustine, as the envelopes are marked as such and Agostino has made no reference to doing sculptor. The young Augustine seems to have been a “Jack of All Trades”, and at the age of  24, one can imagine him, as a single young man living at home, with his parents at 2 Osnaburgh St Regents Park,  having a go at any enterprise, having seen the problems his father had with his unbusiness like ways.

This does not seem to be an unreasonable venture to try, bearing in mind the number of the facsimile vases of this type one sees around country houses; however all the letters indicate refusals.

Buckingham Palace work and Westminster Hall competition

Letters 061 – 096


The Pompeii Room at Buckingham Palace

The group of letters between 1841 and 1845 give us tremendous insights in to Agostino’s activities and relationships with other painters while he became involved in the work at Buckingham Palace and with the Westminster Hall Cartoon.

It seems that C.L.Eastlake who was a significant member of the Art Establishment had some significant control over the work at Buckingham Palace work and for Westminster Cartoon Competition.

During this period of time is seems from the letters that there is a bussle of activity over the two ventures involving a number of artists who are doing work for one another. There seems to be a situation whereby Aglio had the know how of Italian Fresco and supplied materials and equipment for the work. Likewise he seems to be the source of information about Encaustic work.

Two rooms were being done at Buckingham Palace in outbuildings. The Summer House and the Pompeii Room

In 1844, sketches were being done by C.Kean. This may have been, although unlikely, Charles Samuel Keene, who worked for the Illustrated London News


W.C.Ross was working perhaps with Aglio on the Fresco in the Summer House and there is discussion about the plaster coating, intonaco and request for marble dust. He later wrote to Aglio regarding the friendliness and goodwill of the Prince (Albert)


During 1843 there were numerous letters from Daniel Maclise rejecting Aglio’s offers of being involved with the Buckingham Palace work. He, like Agli,o was painter of historical scenes and did considerable work for the Establishment.


In about 1844 an Artist, Wehner,  wrote to Agostino Aglio asking for a couple of evenings to show him how to do frescos. He had done the cartoon and was planning to enter the Exhibition ( presumably for the Westminster Hall ) and had no experience in that field.


It seems probable that Charles R.Leslie work for a while with Aglio.

There is a strange letter from Leslie to Aglio regard him collecting his “colours” and tin palette. It seems that he entered the Westminster Hall competition. Leslie is an interesting connection as he was a personal friend of John Constable and in fact wrote his biography.

Further Research has turned up enough information to clarify the position at Buckingham and a summary of the story is on another page- 

The Summerhouse Project at Buckingham Palace


The notes above derived chiefly from the letters and a little from background information from the internet, however research has turn up the fantastic dissertation by Daniel Boeckmann in 1996, based on the Life of Ludwig Gruner, Art Adviser to Prince Albert .

This dissertation and reports in two journals of the time confirm that the Artists listed in letters were involved in the Buckingham Palace project.

There is amongst the album of letters an envelope, 

addressed to “Mr Aglio Stage Door”, with a heading Amy Robsart. This must refer to the play written by Victor Hugo which was based on the first wife of Lord Robert Dudley, the favourite of Elizabeth I. The play was performed in 1928 so the letter was most likely written to Agostino.

Other interesting connections with the art world at large can be seen though the albums of pictures and notes, within the Aglio archive that can be seen at

and in particular the picture painted by G.Sims yet referring to Turner R.A. on the album page.


It will be noted that many of the letters during the 1840’s came from artists living in the area of Fitzroy Square, Street and Charlotte Street. Looking at the history of T.C.Dibdin who was later to become related with the Aglio family through the marriage of his son, William Joseph, to Marian Aglio it is interesting to note that he and his family were also living for a while in that area, before moving to the Polygon in Somers Town.


There is considerable delight to be found in further study of the residences of the family in this area during the 1800’s, an area bounded by the Regents canal, Regents Park, in the north and West and Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury in the South and East.


This seems to have been the dwelling place of many artists in the broadest sense and was the home of the Aglio and Dibdin family for quite some period of time.

The issues of "Artist and Family Residences" will be discussed elsewhere.


There are a number of letters about no work available in country houses in the early years of the 1800’s and one from the Italian Opera, Covent Garden presumably regarding payment for work done.


The Painting Competition

Towards the end of the work at Buckingham Palace, in July 1845,  Aglio received a personal invitation and encouragement to enter for the £1000 competition to do a large oil painting presumably for the Alkali Works in South Shields. (Half of the letter seems to be missing) This was followed, in December 1846, by a request for confirmation that Aglio was doing the painting and enclosed was a copy of the original proposal for the best Oil Painting of the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan.

Biographies indicated that Agostino did this work. 


In 1814 the Le Blanc process of making alkali from common salt was introduced to Britain making production easier. Alkali works opened at Tyne Dock 1822, Felling shore 1826, Friars Goose (Gateshead) 1828 and Felling Shore 1834. Such works also produced soda, alum and Epsom salts. One of the great problems associated with the alkali works was pollution, mainly from emissions of hydrochloric acid fumes which devastated the neighbouring countryside. One solution was to build tall chimneys to drive the fumes further away and in 1833 the highest chimney in England was built at the Friars Goose Alkali Works. The Alkali Act of 1863 further reduced pollution.

The letters, written by  Thomas Bell, was addressed from an Alkali Works in South Shields which was probably nearer to the docks than the above. Thomas Bell seems to be a well known dignitary in the Newcastle area however there is uncertainty as a Thomas Bell, a founder of that industry, died on 20 April 1845 but there seems to be a descendant of the same name involved with the business.

There are a couple of letters relating to work with Godfrey Wentworth in Yorkshire in 1855, one of which is a recommendation from Sydney Smirke, the Architect.

Bearing in mind that by this time Agostino was paralysed and that he had already worked for Wentworth years before it would seem likely that the recommendation refers to Augustine.

There are three letters from someone names Landaur or Sandaur. One letter refers to a fresco and the Prince ( Albert) and the third written in 1951 while Agostino was ill with a stroke. This seems to have been signed Princess Landaur or Sandaur, with the same writing as in 1845 and indicates concern over his condition. There was at about that time a Princess Alexandra, nicknamed Sander, but the dates do not match.

In 1857 Eastlake wrote to Aglio but the letter is incomplete.

Letters to Augustine Aglio

As the Buckingham Palace work finished in1846 that Augustine, at the age of 30,  married Margaret Absolon, the sister of John Absolon the painter. As to how he met her we have no record, however it would seem likely that Augustine and John Absolon met professionally and so the relationship developed. In 1852 he set up as a photographer in partnership with John’s son Hugh in Piccadilly. One can imagine that it would have been in 1846 that Augustine would have moved from his parents home in Osnaburgh St to his new home at 4 Oval Road a mile or so up the road.

Hugh Wolfgang De Mansfield Absolon
Born Westminster 1838. Died 1874.
Married  Emily Pickford June 20 1866 in St Pancras. (She was a servant in the Absolon household in 1861).
Absolon had 5 brothers and 2 sisters, including Victor de Mansfield Absolon and William Henry de Mansfield Absolon.
He was the son of John Absolon, painter (b Lambeth May 6 1815; d Kensington June 26 1895)
In partnership with Ludovico Cajetanus Augustinus Aglio, as Aglio & Absolon.
STUDIO: 201 Piccadilly, Westminster 1852 - 1853. Successors to Friedrich Droege.
Exhibited at RA 1855 from 15 St Augustine's Road, Camden Square, St Pancras (father's address 1855 - 1861).
Letter in Photographic Journal April 21 1856 from 201 Piccadilly.
Listed as Admiralty clerk, temporary Royal Marine Division, in 1861.
Listed as Admiralty writer, living at 29 Mall Chambers, Palace Garden Terrace, Kensington 1873, when bill of sale was given to Robert F Burrow £50.
British Library catalogue for listing of books illustrated.
Died in Kensington 1874.

In 1875 Sam Redgrave wrote to Augustine regarding an update of his father’s biography.

This was published a couple of years later:

The following is taken from the Dictionary of English Painters 2nd Edition by Sam Redgrave 1878  -- Information was confirmed with Augustine Aglio

AGLIO, Augustine, subject painter and decorator. He was born at Cremona, Dec. 15, 1777, and was educated at the College of St Alessandro, Milan, where he was one of the most distinguished pupils. He studied the various branches at the Academy Brera, and in 1797 practised landscape painting at Rome, where he was introduced to Mr. Wilkins, R.A., with whom he travelled in Italy, Greece, and Egypt, and employed himself in sketching the antiquities of those countries. In  1802 he returned to Rome, and in December of the following year came to England on the invitation of Mr. Wilkins, whom he at once joined at Cambridge, and whose  ' Magna Graecia' he was employed to complete in aqua-tint.

In 1804 he was engaged in the scene- room of the Opera House, and in 1806 at the Drury Lane Theatre, and was then largely employed in the decorations of  some important mansions, and visited  Ireland, where he painted twelve pictures  of Killarney. In 1811 he decorated the Pantheon in Oxford Street, and in 1819, in fresco, the ceiling of the Roman Catholic Chapel in Moorfields, where he also executed the altarpiece. He also drew many works in lithography, and his ' Mexican Antiquities/ which were announced in ten volumes, though only nine were published — 1830 - 48. About 1820 he produced many easel pictures. He exhibited at Suffolk Street between 1825 and 1856, and at the Royal Academy between 1830 and 1846. To the Westminster Hall  Exhibition he sent a large landscape, with  figures in fresco. In 1844 and in 1847,  ' Rebecca/ a large oil picture. One of his last works was the decoration of the Olympic Theatre. He painted two portraits of the Queen, which, with some other works, were engraved. After a long earnest life spent in the pursuit of art he died Jan. 30, 1857, in his 80th year, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.    


It seems that in about 1863 Augustine and family moved to 87 St Pauls Road, St Pancras and it would have been here or at Oval Road that he and Thomas Colman Dibdin and John Absolon would have met up socially. There is reference in a family write up, to TC Dibdin’s son, William Joseph, throwing Marian’s cat over the wall to tease her. They were married after many adventures some sixteen years later.

In 1870 there is a letter to Augustine regarding his testimony presumably for a job as Professor of Drawing at Bedford College, indicating that he did not get the job as it had gone to Mr Eyre Crowe.

It seems that in about 1861 Augustine had done some work for Lady Warwick at the Stables of St James Palace.

It was unexpected to find the letter to John Absolon from Harrison Weir, an artist, other than that, of course, he was Augustine’s brother in law.


A key point not really emphasised in the article is the geographical relationship between the writers of various letters and their recipients. Also bearing in mind the growing development of transport at that time, it is interesting as to how the various parties met up and got to the various venues for work and visiting.

It is proposed that this be explored in a further article.

RG May 2016