Follow TV Tropes


Contrapposto Pose

Go To
Four Classic Instancesnote 
Contrapposto (Italian for "counterpoise") is the term in the Western artistic tradition for a pose in which a person stands upright with most of their weight on one foot, so that their body is turned slightly to one side, with one shoulder a little higher than the other. This creates a relaxed but dynamic effect; the figure isn't standing at attention, but appears either to be in motion or to be capable of moving off at any moment. Nonetheless, someone in this pose "stands tall", and can be depicted meeting the viewer's gaze boldly or surveying their surroundings heroically. On a female figure, it also creates the visual effect of a reduced waist-to-hip ratio; at least one scientific study has shown that this makes many people perceive the woman as more attractive.

One weakness of the pose from the engineering point of view is that by definition it creates an uneven distribution of weight, placing the statue in danger of collapse. Expect to see the weight-bearing leg on classical examples propped up with strategically-placed carvings of rocks, columns, or small tree trunks (this can be seen on Michelangelo Buonarroti's statue of David). Modern examples may be made of different materials or supported by internal reinforcement, making this addition unnecessary.

Contrapposto may be the oldest of the Stock Poses; it was identified in Ancient Greece (making it Older Than Feudalism), where it was used in many classical statues, and rediscovered in The Renaissance, when it was used in both sculpture and painting. Hence, it often shows up in parodies of and call-outs to classic works, as well as still being used in art to this day. It's more subtle than other poses, but historically very important, as its development marks the point when Greek sculptors discovered that they could convey movement and complex emotion in a statue.

This pose is generally more subtle than the Boobs-and-Butt Pose, and in any case the figure is usually intended to be viewed primarily from the front rather than the rear, but either pose could evolve into the other easily enough when the person starts moving. It can be combined with the Head-and-Hip Pose, but putting the two together emphasizes both the bust and the hips, and may look like someone trying to be sexy to the point of parody and beyond. It is sometimes used as a Modeling Pose, either to show off an elegant skirt or well-cut pair of pants, or just to associate the clothes with someone who looks relaxed but dynamic, and thus cool. A Supermodel Strut uses much of the same effect, but more blatantly and in motion rather than as a fixed pose; in fact, the walk may end with this pose, as when a model at a Fashion Show, on reaching the end of the catwalk, pauses, juts her hip, and glances sideways at the audience.

Related to other Stock Poses such as the Captain Morgan Pose (another dynamic asymmetric stance) or Foot Popping (which also suggests energy by putting the figure’s weight onto one foot).

Works Featuring the Contrapposto Pose:

    open/close all folders 

  • Aphrodite of Menophantos: Love Goddess Aphrodite, in an unusual display of modesty, is slightly bending her right leg in an attempt to further cover her groin, causing her to visibly favor her left leg.
  • The Age Of Bronze by Auguste Rodin features a young man stretching with most of his weight on his left foot, with his right foot lifted slightly above the ground. His face is also half-turned to the right and he's raising his right arm that way to, so the whole thing creates the illusion of a man turning to look to his right.
  • The Apollo Belvedere is sometimes called the greatest statue of classical antiquity.
  • The Birth of Venus (Botticelli): Venus is resting most of her weight on her left foot, giving the impression that it's a consequence of Zephyr blowing her and her shell from the opposite direction. This makes her overall posture look very delicate and stereotypically feminine. Bouguereau's treatment of the same subject is similarly relaxed.
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti's David uses the pose to intensely dynamic effect.
  • The Doryphoros ("Spear-Bearer") of Polykleitos was another Classical Greek sculpture, known today from Roman copies, which is considered one of the masterpieces of its age. It depicted a male nude in contrapposto, holding a spear or javelin; he may have been a soldier taking a spear to war or an athlete engaged in a javelin-throwing contest.
  • Although Alphonse Mucha tended more to depict his dreamy female subjects Leaning on the Furniture, he could also employ contrapposto, as for example with his Eveil du Matin.
  • The Lady of Shalott (Holman Hunt): In her surprise both at having been able to look at Lancelot and at her mirror cracking, Lady Elaine is about to step back from the tapestry. Therefore, her right foot is hovering a few inches from the floor.
  • Leonardo da Vinci used this pose in his Leda and the Swan (now lost and known only from copies).
  • Bellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa is a violent use of the trope.
  • Portrait of Madame X: While her dress makes it a bit hard to tell, the positioning of her shoulders and the fact that she's Leaning on the Furniture clue that she's shifting her body weight on her right leg.
  • The Rape of Proserpina (Bernini): A very dynamic version bordering on figura serpentinata. Pluto is in a pose with his left foot forward, all of his and Proserpina's weight on it.
  • The Return of Spring: The woman in William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting stands in this pose, favoring her left leg and bending her torso to the left.
  • Venus de Milo: A dynamic and highly sexualised example. Even though her legs are heavily draped, it's clear that she's lifting her left leg to stride and resting all her weight on her right leg.
  • This cartoon demonstrates the way that the classical Greek development of contrapposto revolutionized ancient art.

    Comic Books 
  • Millie the Model: A lot of covers seem to show Millie or other models in this pose, suggesting action while making them look appropriately elegant. Likewise, Katy Keene is sometimes depicted shifting into contrapposto.
  • Wonder Woman 600: Phill Jimez's two page spread depicts Etta with all her weight on her right leg with her left leg slightly forward and to the side.

    Comic Strips 
  • 9 Chickweed Lane: Creator Brooke McEldowney explicitly references the contrapposto pose more than once; this strip (from May 17th 2009) lampshades its use for sexy effect.

    Films — Animation 
  • Frozen (2013): When Queen Elsa is feeling at her most assertive and confident, she often falls into some version of this pose (while her sister Anna tends to a more flat-footed stance).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Emma. (2020): In the movie, Emma's watercolour portrait of Harriet is a whole-length in a contrapposto pose. Harriet is slightly turned to one side, standing with one arm relaxed while she's lifting her other arm above her head and is holding a feather. Emma takes Harriet's likeness for Mr Elton's benefit so that he can admire Harriet's beauty. In the novel, Harriet was sitting down in the portrait.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Contrapposto is basically Jessica Rabbit's default stance. Anyone cosplaying her tends to spend a lot of time pulling this pose, if only because a real human being needs all the help they can get to approximate Jessica's waist/hip ratio.