Counterpose as a Baroque Style Character

poster counterpose

As one of the significant periods in the history of world art, the Baroque is considered to possess distinctive aesthetic qualities that greatly influenced the culture throughout the 17th century AD.

Viewed in a chronological context, the Baroque emerged to replace the Mannerist style, which dominated the era. The dramatic, theatrical, and straightforward qualities of the Baroque supplanted the distorting, whimsical, and irrational aspects of the Mannerist style.

The emergence of new visual aspects later known as the Baroque style certainly had its own reasons, although it is quite challenging to identify the exact cause. Nevertheless, it seems that the assumption of a sense of saturation with the dominance of the Mannerist style for a considerable period was the strongest reason for the birth of the Baroque style.

In its later development, Baroque became highly significant and even surpassed the popularity of the previous period. Instead of considering Mannerism as a significant art period, the majority of art critics preferred to label it as the pre-Baroque period.

The Assumption of Virgin Mary, Annibale Carraci, 1600-1601. source:

Everything always begins with symptoms or initial signs before they can be identified. Likewise, with the Baroque, before it was eventually recognized as one of the important art periods, it initially began with the emergence of aesthetic phenomena quite distinct from the prevailing norms of the time.

These phenomena can be seen in the paintings of Annibale Carracci. Carracci’s paintings were somewhat divergent at that time, with a prominent tendency towards heroic gestures. From a certain perspective, Carracci’s paintings evoked a Renaissance ambiance, particularly in the visual characteristics often seen in works by Michelangelo.

The visual tendencies brought forth by Carracci served as inspiration for several painters, including Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Antonio Allegri da Correggio, and Federico Barocci. Later on, the works of these painters were classified as Proto-Baroque or early Baroque forms.

One notable aspect of the Baroque style is its portrayal of the human figure. In this style, the human form is depicted at its best, much like the tendencies in ancient Greek art. The gestures used by Baroque artists are far more diverse compared to the Mannerist style.

Nevertheless, there is one specific aspect or technique always employed by Baroque artists, known as “contrapposto” or “counterpose.” This aspect is a key technique for presenting the human figure at its best. By using this counterpose technique, the human figure is depicted in a more dynamic, relaxed, or casual manner, while also conveying gestures that are poetic and dramatic. In practical terms, counterpose creates tension between the opposing directions of the body and hips.

According to the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin, a Swiss national, besides counterpose, another important characteristic of the Baroque style is compositional issues. He believed that oval shapes began to replace circular shapes as the center of composition.

Furthermore, the tendency to create centralized or centralized compositions became more important than the balance aspect in a visual composition. In the field of painting, color diversity and artistic aspects of the painting were considered more important than the content of the painting itself.

As a fairly significant and far-reaching art period, Baroque art endured for quite some time. However, like other art periods, Baroque eventually gave way to the dominance of the Rococo style. Nevertheless, Baroque art did not disappear entirely. Its artistic aspects continued to persist, particularly in architecture and decorative arts. This continued for a substantial period until it was eventually replaced entirely by the emergence of the Neoclassical artistic movement in the late 18th century AD.


  • “Encyclopædia Britannica: Western painting.” Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  • The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 2011
  • Boardman, John ed., The Oxford History of Classical Art, 1993, OUP, ISBN 0-19-814386-9

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