05 July 2014

Gino Sarfatti, creator of light and designer-entrepreneur - by Enrico Mercatali

Creator of light and designer entrepreneur
(Venice 1912, Gravedona 1985)

A successful idea of Gino Sarfatti was to place a glass ball inside a circular frame of slightly smaller circumference. This extremely simple and banal idea was a big hit, as it is shown in the pictures below. Huge quantities of these wall and ceiling lamps were sold between the 60’s and 80’s.
Chandeliers born from the “glass ball” idea. Countless variations could be applied to this system, as Carlo Mollino proved in the set-up he made for the Teatro Regio of Turin, called “Nuvole di luce” (“Clouds of light”), in collaboration with Gino Sarfatti.

On the occasion of the centenary of Gino Sarfatti’s birth, the museum Triennale Milano exhibited 200 of the over 600 objects produced by Arteluce, the company founded by Gino Sarfatti in 1939, and mostly designed by him until 1937, when the company was transferred to Flos. A rich catalogue was also produced and printed.

Gino Sarfatti, chandelier 2095/12 hanging in the centre of a spiral staircase designed by Giovanni Muzio; in the background, the Torre Littoria designed by Gio Ponti, on the occasion of the exhibition organized by Triennale.

A brilliant creative-entrepreneur from Venice, Gino Sarfatti worked mainly in Milan and he obtained the highest award for design (Compasso d’Oro award) twice: in 1954, with model 559 of Arteluce catalogue, in 1955 with model 1055/S.

The latter was the first-ever disassembled lamp, sold in a box with the complete assembly kit, making both the product and its package design objects: this formula became widely appreciated.

Gino Sarfatti’s life was always innovative and fascinating. While still a young and resourceful descendant of a Jewish Venetian family, he had a series of innate abilities when he came to Genoa to study engineering, undecided about his future. 

The occasion came for him to discover his talent when he interrupted his studies and left for Milan with his family. He started working as sales representative for a glazier and once turned a glass vase into a lamp for a demanding client. He realized he had a talent for lights, which he could create by simply but effectively uniting different materials. He started producing his own objects and founded Arteluce, which was to become a successful company linked to the best artists and designers of the time: Gio Ponti, Lucio Fontana, Franco Albini, Albe Steiner, just to name some.

Above: a "can full of light", a lamp designed by Gino Sarfatti in the 60’s, produced in many non-primary colors and many sizes: extreme technical simplification of a ceiling light, it became used in several houses of the time.
Below: one of his most successful ideas was to combine a functional rarefaction (electric cable, lamp socket and light bulb) to the shape of a Verano glass chandelier (which was totally unfashionable at the time but would no longer be so at the end of the century); this idea met the great consensus of both public and critics.

The initial idea was to simplify as much as possible, following the Bauhaus concepts but also Gino Sarfatti’s intuition. The object-lamp was to be adapted to its main and exclusive functions in different rooms of the house. The only concession to the taste of the time was the use of pure colors in some products, which had never been used before him.

All his products were based on subtraction criteria, through which he could sometimes dematerialize the object and make it a simple, formal self-representation of function. For instance, the compositional representation created through the simple multiplication of an exposed light bulb and its lamp socket, supported by a “stem” or even simply hung by its electric cable.
This long-studied principle contributed to create his most successful products, like those used for the interior furnishing of motor vessel Andrea Doria, unfortunately sunk, or for the illumination engineering projects of Teatro Regio’s foyers in Turin, in collaboration with Carlo Mollino (here abowe).

 Exhibition in Triennale Milano, September 2012

Arteluce came in contact with the public and professionals of Milan, a cutting-edge city in terms of style, fashion, art and architecture in the 50’s and 60’s, thanks to 2 store-windows projected by Gino Sarfatti: one realized by Marco Zanusso in the street Corso Littorio, later become Corso Matteotti, the other by Vittoriano Viganò in the street Via della Spiga.

On the occasion of the exhibition at Triennale, a volume on the work of Gino Sarfatti has been published, printed by Corraini and entitled “The design of light”. Another volume of over 500 pages has been published by Silvana Editoriale, curated by Marco Romanelli in collaboration with Sandra Sarfatti and containing all 650 works of Gino Sarfatti. A wonderful, complete book about one of the main characters of the design field in the 20th century, and an absolute protagonist of the whole production chain, from the idea to the finished product

Enrico Mercatali
Lesa, 23th September 2012
(Updated on 26th May 2014)
(Translation from italian by Penelope Mirotti)

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