“Contrapposto” is originally an Italian word meaning “opposite.” It applies to a sculptural scheme, which ancient Greek artists created in the early 5th century BC for the positioning of standing human figures. The figure is positioned with its weight resting on one leg, which is straight, while the other leg is free and bent at the knee. The straight leg is the “engaged leg.” The change in the weight corresponds with changes in the position of the hips and shoulders, and the head is also tilted. The overall effect is one of relaxation and subtle movement that comes naturally from within; together these denote life. Prior to using this formula, Greek sculpture used a stiff, static pose, with the figure’s weight equally distributed equally on both legs.
Polykleitos developed a sense of rules, called the Canon, for capturing the ideal proportions of the human figure. The formula is applied in the Spear Bearer, which expresses symmetry (in Greek “symmetria”) combined with contrasts, through contrapposto. The Spear Bearer’s weight is on his right leg, with his left leg free and bent. The stance shifts the right hip up and the left hip down, and moves the shoulders accordingly, with the left shoulder raised and the right shoulder dropped. The counterbalancing results in a body at equilibrium.