Pair of original vintage Italian Gino Sarfatti Model 540 table lamps for Arteluce, 1968.
The 540 is, unfortunately, one of those designs that has many listings that are being sold as originals, but that are in fact copies – but fortunately, once you know what you’re looking for the imposters are easy to spot!
Originally designed by Sarfatti in 1968 the 540 formed part of a series of lights that used the same basic design of the polished metal globe and acrylic holder, but suspended within different settings. As such we can see the light was used as a (usually triple head) pendant ceiling light, floor lamp and most often, as here, a freestanding table lamp.
In all cases the design utilises a curved flat ‘U’ shaped acrylic holder that creates a natural tension that holds the ball light in place via cut outs in the sides. On this basis the very first iteration of the 540 table lamp was created by simply using one element of the triple headed pendant ceiling light and adding an on/off switch to the cable and a plug. If you look at a picture of the 540 ceiling light you’ll see what I mean.
The very first original 540s are therefore categorised as using a single skin chromed aluminium globe that features a circle of round ventilation holes surrounding the black cable that exits centre back of the piece – the cable then has an on/off switch attached along its length at a distance of approximately 12 inches.
This was a very simple solution to creating a variety of lighting profiles using the same basic design and was typical of the ingenious nature of Sarfatti’s designs. That said, the table light did receive a design update a little later in its life with the addition of a switch attached to the globe in the centre at the back, with the cable protruding out a little lower under – plus it had the round ventilation holes drilled in a line vertically, centre, front to back instead of circular in the back as on the very first version of the model.
Copies, although based on Sarfatti’s design, were mostly produced in the 1970s by the German company Insta GmbH and was called Sensorette – they also produced a touch sensitive on/off model. These were designed with a double skin, with both textured and smooth polished interior reflector options, which was different to the originals, but also had different ventilation holes. Whilst they still did have round ventilation holes in the back the copies are categorised by having elongated oval holes that circle close to the front rim and are therefore easy to spot as copies.
That said the German copies are actually well made, as opposed to a proliferation of cheap Chinese made copies (also using the same elongated oval holes) that are doing the rounds; so be warned!
Anyway, back to these lights… as you can see they are first generation produced by Arteluce and remain in very good condition for their age. They have some small marks and light scratches here and there to the acrylic holders and the chrome, just as you would expect and some slight discoloration and marks to the interior surface of the light shell. None of this detracts for the beauty and function of the luminaires themselves.
They are relatively small light but one that is wonderfully practical as a background or task light. This is because the ball can be rotated to a variety of angles and hold their position by virtue of the tension created by the acrylic holder. As such they can be used as uplighters, angled down lighters or set to focus on a wall or a painting as more of a spotlight.
They come supplied with the original European two pin plug as well as with a UK 3 pin adapter as shown in the accompanying photos. They also come supplied with mirrored spot bulbs (as originally intended by Sarfatti) but of course these are replacements rather than the 55 year old originals! Both lights have been fully electrically tested but in any event we would recommend you test the items independently before use in case any damages have occurred during transportation.
Gino Sarfatti was known as The Master of Light, which is a fitting tribute to a man that devoted 40 years of his life to pursuing the idea perfection in lighting. Having founded Arteluce in 1939 he created over 400 lighting designs which generated some 700 luminaires before selling to FLOS in 1973. He retired to Lake Como where the light that reflects from the lake is supposed to be like the light from heaven itself and passed away there in 1985.
Having initially trained as an aeronautical engineer his practical and rational approach to lighting led him to constantly challenge convention. He is famous for experimenting with traditional forms, twisting them through new light sources and materials. He used transformers, weights, wires and numerous ingenious devices to generate and direct light in ways that many other designers could not have even conceived of. In 1957 he reimagined the idea of the chandelier for the modern home and his chandelier series, the 2097, stands out as one of his most famous and enduring designs.
He was friends, and worked with, many of the most iconic Italian designers of the time including Franco Albini, Osvaldo Borsani, Vico Magistretti and Ico Parisi. They recognised in him a singular talent that in many cases outshone their own. He worked with a hands on approach, rarely sketching ideas, but rather working directly with artisans to build and refine his designs in real time. He often worked through the night guided by the very light that shone from his work.
He was critically acclaimed and won countless awards over his span of years including the Compasso d'Oro in 1954 and 1955, and In December 1973, the year he sold his company, he won the gold medal at the XV Triennale. His commitment to designing lights that responded precisely to modern needs mark him as a true pioneer in the field. Many of his designs are still produced by FLOS even to this day and his work stands as an inspiration to many who followed in his footsteps.
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Pair of original vintage Italian Gino Sarfatti 540 table lamps for Arteluce
Modernist, Space Age
Date of production
Acrylic and Aluminium
H22 x W12 x D11cm
Number of pieces included in price
Very good vintage condition
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