Across the globe there are thousands of interesting and appealing corbels. However, despite the appeal of these corbels, many people are unsure exactly what a “corbel” is ? Essentially, a corbel is a piece of stone, or possibly timber, which juts out of a wall to carry incumbent weight. But, corbels do much more than just this decidedly unsexy work, they allure and provide one with a brief yet detailed look into a buildings past. The name derives from a French word meaning crow, because of the corbel’s beaklike shape.
Corbels are most famous for appearing as gargoyles on the side of churches and cathedrals, namely Notre Dame in Paris. Norman (Romanesque) corbels often have a plain appearance, although they may be elaborately carved with stylized heads of humans, animals or imaginary “beasts”, and sometimes with other motifs. The corbels carrying balconies in Italy and France were sometimes of great size and richly carved, and some of the finest examples of the Italian “Cinquecento” (16th century) style are found in them. Throughout England, in half-timber work, wooden corbels abound, carrying window-sills or oriel windows in wood, which also are often carved.
A corbel arch is an arch-like construction method which uses the architectural technique of corbeling to span a space or void in a structure, such as an entranceway in a wall or as the span of a bridge. A corbel vault uses this technique to support the superstructure of a building’s roof.
The word “corbel” comes from Old French and derives from the Latin corbellus, a diminutive of corvus (a raven) which refers to the beak-like appearance. Similarly, the French refer to a corbel as corbeau (a crow) or as cul-de-lampe, Italians as mensola, the Germans as kragstein.
The technique of corbelling, where rows of corbels support a projecting wall or parapet, has been used since Neolithic times. It is common in medieval architecture and in the Scottish baronial style.
Many people use corbels in the 21st century as a way of decorating their house. Corbels provide a space and cost-effective way of making one’s house more presentable, and adds culture and style to a home. By replacing doorways with “corbeled archs”, one can make there house more spacious and more presentable.
Notable examples of corbels worldwide include:
* The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
* Maes Howe, a particularly fine Neolithic chambered cairn in Scotland.
* Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church in Ireland, is built with corbel vaulting.
Corbels, while away from public limelight, ensure the stability and good-looks for thousands of buildings across the globe. They can be found on medieval castles, or modern-day homes. Corbels are all around us.