Italian light designer and entrepreneur
“Gino Sarfatti’s lamps are sculptural luminous objects with which he wanted to make light mobile, freeing it from the laces of the typical location of bourgeois houses in the years preceding the Second World War.”
Gino Sarfatti (born September 16, 1912, Venice, Italy–died March 6, 1985, Griante, Como, Italy) was an Italian entrepreneur, a light and lamp designer, and the founder of Italian light manufacturing company Arteluce. He was born into a family of relative wealth as his father, Riccardo Sarfatti, was a prosperous Jewish food trader, and his mother, Lucia Zuccoli, was from a prominent Catholic family of Trieste. In 1930, Gino moved to Genoa to enroll in the Faculty of Aeronaval Engineering.
Gino Sarfatti Lighting Designer and Founder of Arteluce
Unfortunately, the family’s economic situation worsened considerably when, in 1935, a sea embargo was placed on Italy by the League of Nations in retaliation to Mussolini’s government. At 23, Gino Sarfatti decided to interrupt his studies and to move to Milan–the commercial capital of Italy. First, working as a distributor of a glass manufacturer, but shortly by accident and fired by his entrepreneurial spirit, the young Sarfatti found himself making and designing lighting fixtures.
Relating this passage later in his life, Sarfatti mentioned: “One day, a friend of my father asked me to mount a lampshade on a Murano vase. I took the initiative and placed the vase on a reflector that was part of an old coffee machine, and so I got a light to write and also to illuminate the whole room…I started like this.” First, he founded lighting company Lumen in 1936 in partnership with Aldo Valcarenghi and Dino Mondolfi. Three years later, Sarfatti decided to part ways with his partners and founded the light manufacturing company Arteluce in February 1939. read more
To support his vision to modernize lighting design, Gino Sarfatti rapidly decided to open Arteluce’s first store in Milan at the centric and trendy Corso Littorio #12 location—now Corso Matteotti, and, in 1940, Arteluce participated in the VII Triennale di Milano. During this time, Arteluce also became a frequent meeting place for many of the leading Italian mid-century designers, including Franco Albini, Gianfranco Frattini, Ico Parisi, and Vittorio Viganò. But the situation in Italy was also rapidly changing and in 1943, Gino Sarfatti was forced by the racial laws of the Fascist government to leave Milan and fled with his family to Switzerland, leaving his bookkeeper and secretary, Pinuccia Azzaroni Bassani, to manage the day-to-day activities of Arteluce. Gino Sarfatti and his family returned to Milan in 1946, immediately after the Liberation.
Gino Sarfatti Collaboration with Vittoriano Viganò and Other Architects
In 1950, Gino Sarfatti embarked on a transformative research journey to the United States. During his absence, he assigned the artistic direction of Arteluce to Vittoriano Viganò, who contributed his own design imprint by using metal cones and shapes to shed and project light along large arms. A stile that would impact Arteluce’s future aesthetic as well.
In 1951, nine Arteluce models participated in the IX Triennale di Milano, and in 1952 Franco Albini included 12 Arteluce lights at the Paris exhibition of Italian Decorative Arts. In 1953, Gino Sarfatti decided that, after 14 years since its opening, it was time to give a new look to his store in Via Matteoti and selected Marco Zanuso to carry out the renovation.
In 1954 and 1955, Sarfatti received numerous international awards, including two Compasso d’Oro awards for his lamp designs for models 559 and 1055. In 1958, he designed the famous Pendant lamp, or chandelier, for Arteluce. In 1962, Sarfatti decided to open a much larger shop on Via della Spiga in Milan, this time designed by Vittorio Viganò.
During the 1960s, Arteluce’s business grew rapidly not only with its lighting home designs sold in Italy and abroad, but also with its custom Gino Sarfatti lighting designs for public buildings. As other important Italian designers, such as Nino Zoncada, Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale, Paolo de Poli, Pietro Chiesa, and Gio Ponti, during this time Gino Sarfatti, through Arteluce, became involved in many interior and furniture design projects for the then rapidly growing industry of Italian ocean liners.
In 1973, Gino Sarfatti collaborated with Carlo Mollino and created several grand lighting fixtures for the Teatro Regio in Turin. Including large scale Le Sfere versions and the majestic “cloudlike” Nuvola installation within the concert hall.
Sale of Arteluce to FLOS
By the late 1960s, the complexity of Arteluce’s business had grown considerably and required a much larger managerial workforce. At this time, his sons and daughter-in-law joined the company, but Gino Sarfatti decided to sell Arteluce to FLOS in 1973 at the peak of its sales and profits.
Gino Sarfatti retired to live in Lake Como with Angela Regiroli and their daughter Micol, where he maintained a private life away from the design community.
For more information on Gino Sarfatti, please visit the following:
Last updated: October 25, 2020
Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article by correcting errors, adding updates, or filling important omissions here
Gino Sarfatti: Il Design della Luci / Designing Light
Marco Romanelli, Sandra Sevelli
Gino Sarfatti: Opere Scelte / Selected Works 1938 – 1973
Il fascino delle lampade di Gino Sarfatti
Galerie Christine Diegoni