Admitted to the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in 1836, when he was still very young, Pagliano took part in the Cinque Giornate uprising in Milan and enlisted as a volunteer in 1849. Having returned to Milan in 1850, he presented his first historical paintings with success at the Brera exhibitions. His crucial meeting with the Neapolitan painter Domenico Morelli, the start of a long and close friendship, came in the early 1850s. He returned to Milan after a long period spent studying works of art all through Italy but enlisted with Garibaldi again in the Alpine Chasseurs in 1859. Deeply scarred by his wartime experience, the artist inaugurated his distinctive repertoire of historical and patriotic subjects in 1860. At the same time, his works attained greater freedom as he took up painting en plein air under the influence of Morelli, who produced one of his most celebrated canvases in 1861 as a guest of Pagliano in Milan. He took part in the major national and international exhibitions during the 1870s and received numerous awards, including the prestigious Prince Umberto Prize (1872) and a gold medal in Paris (1878). His production diversified with the execution of portraits, frescoes and theatre backdrops as well as genre scenes in 18th-century costume in his mature period. His last work of great commitment was a depiction of the death of the Italian patriot Luciano Manara, which he witnessed first-hand during the fighting of 1849 in Rome.