- Italian term for a technique developed by ancient Greek sculptors to represent the human figure standing at ease in a relaxed and natural stance. It was based on an intentional assymetry of stance, with one leg carrying most of the body's weight and the other leg free. Although based on depiction of the body at rest, the technique was also fundamental to realistic representation of the body in motion. This technique first appeared in early Greek classical sculpture (early fifth century B.C.) and was widely used throughout the classical period but fell out of use in medieval sculpture. Its rediscovery in the early 15th century is attributed to the Florentine sculptor Donatello. At least, it first appears in his work, notably his bronze David, executed about 1425, which is reminiscent of classical statuary in its contrapposto stance. In painting, the use of contrapposto first appears in the work of Masaccio, most strikingly in The Tribute Money (ca. 1427) but also in the nude figures of Adam and Eve in his Expulsion from Paradise.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.