Contrapposto refers to a method of positioning the standing human body, particularly used in sculpture so that the hips and legs are twisted away from the head and shoulders, i.e., counter-posed, suggesting relaxation and mobility. It was first employed by the ancient Greeks.
The term can also be used in reference to ancient Greek and Roman statues that display this technique, as well as many later works up to the present day. Many famous examples of contrapposto are found in the art of Michelangelo, such as his “David” and “Pieta” sculptures.
Contrapposto was used as early as the 5th century BC by the Greeks, and later appeared in Roman art in the 1st century AD. It continued to be used throughout the Renaissance and into the Baroque period, especially in works featuring the human figure.
The Italian word contrapposto is derived from the Latin words contra (against) and post (after), meaning “counterpoised”. This refers to the fact that the body is positioned so that one side is higher or lower than the other, creating an S-shaped curve.
The technique not only creates a more visually interesting and dynamic composition but can also suggest different emotions in the viewer. For example, a figure in a contrapposto pose may appear to be relaxed and at ease, while one with a more symmetrical stance may seem tense or formal.