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Alessandro Conti

(b Bergamo, 1798; d Bergamo, 1873).

Italian writer and restorer. He wrote the most important 19th-century handbook on the restoration of paintings. Heir to the 18th-century tradition of studying the physical and chemical aspects of art, Secco-Suardo was able to explain problems with a clarity that makes his work still irreplaceable. The manual was probably compiled after 1858, when he gave up his administrative duties for the Austrian government. The first part of the text appeared in 1866 but the entire work was published only posthumously in 1894, and the world it mirrors is that of the restorers who worked for the great collectors of the first half of the 19th century. According to Secco-Suardo, the primary concern of restoration should be the visual pleasure of a painting rather than strict conservation, and the restorer must endeavour to conceal the distinction between the old work and the new. Any additions should imitate the original and repainting should be removed only if of poor quality, though in certain circumstances a colour that has become badly altered may be repainted. When it comes to the appearance of paintings, Secco-Suardo shows a typically Romantic taste for patina as a means of showing age. His link with the methods practised in the first half of the 19th century can also be seen in his recommendations for the transfer of frescoes: he merely advises on their removal, with no regard for their character as painted plaster and with none of the consideration that Gaetano Bianchi had shown for them as part of a building’s polychrome decoration....