Contrapposto is an Italian term which describes the pose of a figure where the weight is one one foot. It is probably the most common pose for sculptures because it breaks up the symmetry of a balanced pose and immediately creates complex counter-curves as the weight transfers across the shoulders and hips. It is so common, it is sometimes considered an ‘academic’ pose, or even cliche. However, it continues to be used because it is beautiful, and in fact how people stand at rest.
The use of contrapposto is often pointed to as a key transition between the Greek ‘Archaic’ period and the later ‘Early Classical’ period and . Archaic art is based on Egyptian art, with stylized, formulaic, and often rigid poses. Later Greek art was more interested in naturalism and expression, and contrapposto is a excellent pose for showing how people normally stand.
When teaching figure sculpture and drawing, contrapposto is explictly avoided on the first pose so that students can learn proportion and symmetry. Once the basic proportions are understood, the study of contrapposto opens up observations on the differences between muscles in tension and relaxed, balance, and gesture.