Archive for February, 2022

Contrapposto Made Easy

Contrapposto means “counter poise” in Italian.  It’s the posture with attitude: “Hey, you talkin’ to me? “ The pelvis is pushed up on one side of the torso and the angle of the shoulders leans in the same direction.  This happens when your weight is on one leg and your other leg is just there for company.

In the guide paper diagram, above,  you can see that the figure is standing in perfect balance by the fact that there is a straight line connecting the middle of her neck to the middle of her weight-bearing heel.

Now let’s look at how four students approximated this perfect-balance-with-attitude.

In 1) we see a successful contrapposto.  The sartorial details, the drapery effects and the hands are not important for this exercise.  Getting this figure to stand convincingly –with a sense of the left leg pushing up the left side of the pelvis and the shoulders leaning left—is a major accomplishment.

The figure in 2) stands convincingly and in balance.  The contrapposto stance is clear.  The shoulder tilt is especially successful.

Next, 3), the figure is drawn in a solid, frontal stance with a hint of contrapposto in the legs. For a true contrapposto her left leg would have to be towards the middle of the body so that the left heel would be intersected by that vertical guide line.  This would make the left leg load bearing and we would feel that  the left leg is pushing the pelvis up on the left side.  The guide line for the shoulders slopes down nicely, but in the drawing the shoulders are horizontal, which weakens the  contrapposto effect.

In 4) the figure is standing on the left leg, giving her a legitimate contrapposto stance.  Notice that the guide line for the shoulder is at a pronounced downward slope.  The fleshed-out drawing ignores this line and makes the shoulders almost horizontal.  The contrapposto would be more hey-you if the right shoulder would be higher, i.e. if it met the guide line.


This is interesting, I think, because it shows a subconscious preference for balance and symmetry, which are reassuring and comfortable.  The contrapposto twist is lively!   Wicked, even.  You don’t know what the person with this attitude will challenge you with.

The contrapposto pose was invented by a Greek sculptor in the early 5th century BC, around 480.  We’ll have a look at that next: the Kritios Boy.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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