Let’s Get Technical… ‘Contrapposto’

Art Today’s dictionary of technical terms for budding art experts and students alike…

A life-drawing artist’s model displaying a contrapposto pose.

A human figure attempting the contrapposto pose, detailing how uncomfortable and unrealistic an exaggerated version can be.


An Italian technical term taken to mean ‘counterpoise’, ‘contrapposto’ is a sculptural trick developed by the Ancient Greeks to display the sculptor’s superlative skill.

The ‘Kritios Boy’ c. 480 BCE – first known example of contrapposto.


‘The Victorious Youth’ c. 310 BCE showing a slightly-more stylised version of contrapposto.

The figure’s pose would involve holding its weight on one leg while the other is extended nonchalantly forwards, giving an air of effortless – and very natural – ease.  This stance would force the hips to swivel down towards the extended leg, and the shoulders to pivot up on that same side.  The head would naturally incline towards the upturned shoulder, creating an anatomically realistic pose.

This particular technical feat became a fashion statement for those commissioning their likeness during the Greek Classical Period (480 – 323 BCE) and the pose became more and more pronounced, at length creating overly-twisted body shapes that were much more stylised.

Moreover, in the Hellenistic Period (323 to 31 BCE), the proliferated copies of earlier famous sculptural types often needed to include a scenic prop (such as a tree trunk) in order for the statue to balance and not fall over.  Such statues are considered inferior.


[Credits:  Feature Image – ‘Kritios Boy’ c. 480 BCE; redtiger.com; Bethpage.ws]











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