Italian lighting designer Elio Martinelli was born in 1921 in Lucca in Tuscany. He attended a vocational school before going on to study set design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where he ultimately earned a diploma. After school, he began working in his father’s lighting business, while also taking on his own interior design projects for restaurants, hotels, and shops, with an aesthetic inspired by his set design background. During this period, initially out of necessity, he also began designing and producing his own lighting. In 1950, Martinelli formally established his own lighting company, Martinelli Luce, in Lucca; the company has since gone on to produce numerous lighting designs for domestic and commercial use.
Throughout his career, Martinelli embraced new materials (such as methacrylate), and his work was representative of the midcentury modernist Italian aesthetic, characterized by an organic geometry both rationalistic and expressive. Standout pieces include, among others, the space-age table lamps Serpente (1965), Cobra (1968), and Foglia (1969). Following an invitation from designer Gio Ponti, Martinelli’s company participated in the first edition of the international design exhibition, Eurodomus, held in Turin in 1966. It went on to attend the 1968, 1970, and 1972 editions as well.
Martinelli continued to work until his passing in 2004. The company continues to operate today with Martinelli’s family at the helm. The Montreal Decorative Arts Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Museum of Art in Philadelphia each hold multiple Martinelli Luce models in their permanent collections.