Renaissance Architects Embraced the Ellipse as an Ideal Form. Now, Painter Jane Harris Considers the Shape’s Contemporary Meanings

A new exhibition at CLOSE Ltd in Somerset brings together works Harris made over the past decade.

Jane Harris, Double Delight (2011).Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.
Jane Harris, Double Delight (2011).Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

The ellipse is a shape with its own special place in art history. It was instrumental to the developments of compositional perspective and, during the Renaissance, artist-architects including Michelangelo, Bernini, and Specchi began to actively incorporate the form into their urban designs, such as Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

Later, Mannerist painters, too, would incorporate the ellipse into their compositions, as an elongated adaptation of the circle that had been considered the perfect form in the Renaissance. 

The British artist Jane Harris has spent much of her career exploring the ellipse as a contemporary site of meaning. A selection of Harris’s works from the past decade are currently on view at CLOSE Ltd in Somerset. In these works, Harris presents ellipses against monochromatic fields of color. Rather than images of cool geometry, Harris’s ellipses possess a serene delicacy and often seem to emerge, aura-like, from the surfaces. These ellipses have curlicued edges, reminiscent, in one glance, of the the lace-edgings of doilies, and of amoeba in others.

Jane Harris, Yonder (Diptych). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Jane Harris, Yonder (Diptych). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

On occasion, Harris works with metallic paints that impart a subtle iridescence, such as in Tilt (2015), and in these cases the works bring to mind Byzantine’s halos. (That hint of religious undertone comes through, too, when the works are presented as diptychs, such as in the 2011 work Double Delight

“Her spatial explorations emerge enigmatically; each work is imbued with an individual personality and presence. The relationships between each painting is transfixing,” said Freeny Yiani, founder of CLOSE Ltd, who has been following Harris’s work since the early 1990s. 

Deceptively simple, Harris’s canvases are a study in the subtleties of surface, light, and form. 

See more images from “Jane Harris” at CLOSE Ltd below. 

Jane Harris, Tilt (2015). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Jane Harris, Tilt (2015). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Installation view "Jane Harris: At Close" (2021). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Installation view “Jane Harris: At Close” (2021). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Installation view "Jane Harris: At Close" (2021). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Installation view “Jane Harris: At Close” (2021). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Installation view "Jane Harris: At Close" (2021). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Installation view “Jane Harris: At Close” (2021). Courtesy of CLOSE Ltd.

Jane Harris: At Close” is on view at CLOSE Ltd through March 31, 2021.


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