The Greeks deserve some credit for the Renaissance style

David

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David c.1504

♦♦♦♦♦The statue of David  by Italian artist Michelangelo is famous for its beauty and sense of balance. Notice how the figure leans on the right leg, shifting weight in such a way that the right hip is forced upward while the right shoulder slopes downward.

This is both a reflection of the human body in nature and it creates a dynamic that is pleasing to look at with the two sides of the body engaged in opposite actions: one arm up, the other down; one leg straight, the other bent; the hip and shoulders are unparalleled; and with the head looking off to the left, the body creates an “S” shape to the figure which is supposed to be pleasant to the viewer.

Michelangelo and other artists of the Renaissance used this pose, including da Vinci, Raphael, and Boticelli:

The Birth of Venus (Botticelli) c.1486

Leda and the Swan by Leonardo da Vinci c.1504

Leda and the Swan by Leonardo da Vinci c.1504

Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Raphael) c.1507

Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Raphael) c.1507

contrapposto

Posing the subjects in works of art in this particular way is known as contrapposto. The influence of this style can be seen in later works. Look at these examples:

The Birth of Venus (Bouguereau) c.1879

The Birth of Venus (Bouguereau) c.1879

Sir Gregory Page-Turner (Batoni) c.1768

Sir Gregory Page-Turner (Batoni) c.1768

Spada, Lionello - The Gypsy Fortune Teller c.1614

Spada, Lionello – The Gypsy Fortune Teller c.1614

Caryatid by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney c.1912

Caryatid by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney c.1912

Standing Male Nude by Harold Knight c.1898

Standing Male Nude by Harold Knight c.1898

George Washington at the Battle of Princeton by Peale c.1781

George Washington at the Battle of Princeton by Peale c.1781

Modern Examples

In modern visuals, the contrapposto is everywhere:

Dijkstra 1992

Dijkstra 1992

Top-Fashion-Magazine-April-2013-Michaela-Kocianova-Branislav-Simoncik-9876446645

Cherry Wallpaper by Lisa Montag Brotman, 1981

Han_Solo_buy_Star_Wars_cutouts_at_starstills__25679

Classic_bugsbunny

Bugs Bunny model

captain+america+concept+art

Captain America concept art

Origins

So where does contrapposto originate? It can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. The first known example of contrapposto is the Kritios Boy, a marble statue dating back to 480 B.C. It’s possible there were more works of art in a similar style, but none have survived (or have been found so far).

009MA_Kritios

Kritios Boy c.480 B.C.

Additional information according to Wikipedia:

“The first known statue to use contrapposto is Kritios Boy, c. 480 BC, so called because it was once attributed to the sculptor Kritios. It is possible, even likely, that earlier Bronze statues had used the technique, but if they did, they have not survived and Kenneth Clark called the statue “the first beautiful nude in art”. The statue is a Greek marble original and not a Roman copy. Prior to the introduction of contrapposto, the statues that dominated ancient Greece were the archaic kouros (male) and the kore (female). Contrapposto has been used since the dawn of classical western sculpture. According to the canon of the Classical Greek Sculptor Polykleitos in the 4th century BC, it is one of the most important characteristics of his figurative works and those of his successors, Lysippos, Skopas, etc. The Polykletian statues for example Discophoros (discus-bearer) and Doryphoros (spear-bearer) are idealized athletic young men with the divine sense, and captured in contrapposto. In these works, the pelvis is no longer axial with the vertical statue as in the archaic style of earlier Greek sculpture before Kritios Boy. Contrapposto can be clearly seen in the Roman copies of the statues of Hermes and Heracles. A famous example is the marble statue of Hermes with the infant Dionysus in Olympia by Praxiteles. It can also be seen in the Roman copies of Polyclitus’ amazon. Classical contrapposto was revived in the Renaissance by the Italian artists Donatello and Leonardo da Vinci, followed by Michelangelo, Raphael and other artists of the High Renaissance.”

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7 thoughts on “The Greeks deserve some credit for the Renaissance style

  1. Seeing Bugs Bunny and Hans Solo posed in the contrapposto style really drove it home for me! I enjoyed that you added some outside the box examples. Like Claire said, “this pose is everywhere”, but I never noticed it or gave it any thought. It’s interesting to see where it originated (and now I’ll sound smart when I bring this up at the next party I go to!) Thanks!

  2. That is so cool! To see the inspiration of something that doesn’t seem too influential reach across centuries and generations. From specific art to pop culture, it’s just there. I think this is going to be one of my favorite blogs for all these new tidbits. Thank you for this!

  3. Pingback: Contrapposto – A Traditional Pose | Zen School for Creative People

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