Stephen Cox

Tondo: We Must Always Turn South


Not on display

Stephen Cox born 1946
Object: 667 × 70 mm
Purchased 1982

Catalogue entry



Not inscribed
Sant Ambrogia di Verona marble, circular, 26 7/8 × 26 1/4 × 2 7/8 (66.5 × 66.5 × 7) with brass fittings
Purchased from the artist through the Whitechapel Art Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Exh: Stephen Cox, Studio Artre, Milan, October 1981 (no catalogue); British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, Part 2: Symbol and Imagination 1951–1980, Whitechapel Art Gallery, November 1981–January 1982 (146 as one of ‘Three Tondos’)

This is the first of a series of carvings which Cox intends to make out of all the different types of stone described by Vasari in the technical introduction to his Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors. It was made from ‘Verona Red’ marble and was carved in the workshops of the brothers Bazzica in San Ambrogio di Valpolicella near Verona.

One of the stones described by Vasari is called breccia and is composed of numerous fragments of stone, usually marble, embedded in calcareous cement. It can be of various different colours and takes a beautiful polish; it was widely used in the Italian Renaissance for the framing of doorways and for chimney pieces. After specially praising the ‘oriental’ varieties from Greece and Egypt, Vasari added: ‘Of this stone, the kind which is found in the hills of Verona is very much softer than the oriental; and in that place is quarried a sort which is reddish, and inclines towards a vetch colour’.

Cox had taken with him on his ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy Adrian Stokes's collected works and was particularly interested in his The Quattro Cento. In the introduction to the section on ‘Florence and Verona’ in this book Stokes describes in detail the composition and characteristics of this stone and adds: ‘Verona marble is the stone preferred by me for Quattro Cento effect of stoneblossom. Nature of the stone dictates that any conception of emergent and pictorial effect will be treated large, fruitfully.’ The book ends: ‘I have written, not only for unfortunate Northerners who love the South, but also for those who love the North passionately, so that they might know the essence that is foreign and dangerous to their art. Or do we all need light in place of lightning... must we always turn South?’ Cox's title is an adaptation of this final phrase.

In his earlier work Cox had been concerned with reference to the perspective of the architecture in which the piece was installed, by incising lines in the surface of the work. On this occasion the ellipse can be read both ‘as receding plane and an emblematic shape.’ This shape is ‘both geometric and organic and the marble hard yet evoking the sensuality of flesh.’ The lines radiating from the oval suggest ‘flames, hair or lion's mane.’ Stokes himself describes a similar shape: ‘A nimbus will be a disk, a solid wheel ... tendrils will twirl as thick as your thumb, not sharp but slabbed in relief. Given the Quattro Cento constriction to make manifest, effect will be truly sculptural.’

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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