Count Giovanni Secco Suardo was born into an ancient family from Bergamo, studied law and in 1831 moved to Milan to become a Representative at the City Congregation.
Well-known in the circle of Lombard “connoisseurs” of that time, he maintained close relations with collectors who gravitated around the Accademia Carrara such as Guglielmo Lochis, Carlo Marenzi, Giovanni Brentani, Pietro Moroni and, in Milan, with Girolamo D’Adda, Giovanni Morelli, Charles Eastlake, Giangiacomo Poldi Pezzoli.
His love of art collections led him to deal with all those issues linked with artistic techniques and to regularly pay visit to the most famous Milanese studios of that time, among them those of Alessandro Brisson and Giuseppe Molteni that, in the mid century, had become “set” meeting places for connoisseurs, merchants and restorers.
His work “Sulla riscoperta ed introduzione in Italia dell’odierno sistema di dipingere ad olio” (“The rediscovery and introduction of the today’s oil painting thecniques in Italy”) was published in 1858 and was followed in 1870 by “Pensieri sulla pittura ad encausto, ad olio e a tempera” (“Thoughts on encaustic, oil and tempera painting”).
He had started studying painting restoration techniques in the early Fifties, and set up a real studio in his home in Lurano (Bergamo). He got in touch with the most famous Italian and foreign restorers of that time, from Paul Kiewert to Maximilian Pettenkoffer, in order to analyse and compare the different restoration methods used in Italy and abroad.
This gave rise to the well-known restoration manual: “Manuale ragionato per la parte meccanica dell’Arte del Ristauratore di dipinti” (“Annotated manual of the mechanics of the Art of restoring painting”, Milan 1866) that met a great deal of publishing success and became an essential tool for restorers, collector and amateurs.
The most important novelty contained in this manual is the description of the fresco “strappo” techniques that, even if some changes due to technological evolution have been introduced, are still in use nowadays: these techniques enabled restoration to become a real science of preservation.
In 1864 he was appointed by the Ministry of Public Education to give lectures on restoration at the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence; this resulted in the creation of a new modern school of “strappo”, giving rise to a greater awareness of the problems involved in preserving the artistic wealth of Italy.