Much of our housing stock is Victorian or Edwardian. These beautiful homes are stuffed full of period features which are splendid but are not well understood in our modern era. For instance, do you know the difference between a corbel and a console?
Take a look at this decorative arch in the hallway above. Can you see that it is supported by some very fancy plaster work? These are corbels. In architecture a corbel is a structural piece of stone, wood or metal, embedded in and jutting from a wall, to carry a superincumbent weight – it acts as a type of bracket. Not sure what superincumbent means? – I looked it up for you: ‘lying on something else’.
Here they are in an Edwardian home.
Here they are again – but this time in a Victorian house (you can usually tell if a house is Victorian as they tended to have a smaller footprint ie they were narrower).
Of course, the Victorians didn’t invent the corbel – it has been around for literally ages. The Greeks used them and London is full of them on Neo-Classical inspired architecture, often supporting a jutting roof, a balcony or an ornate cornice.
Our medieval buildings have them too – the sculptor of this corbel in Ely Cathedral took the load-bearing theme and ran with it.
So, what is a console? It is more specifically an “S”-shaped scroll bracket in the classical tradition, with the upper or inner part larger than the lower or outer (see image above). It acts much more as a bracket – that is, it supports the weight above but isn’t set into the wall.
Whereas a corbel is rarely used outside architecture, a console is widely used in the decorative arts – you have probably heard of a ‘console table’.
So, that’s it – a corbel is a support which is embedded into the wall to provide counterbalance to the weight above and a console is a stuck on bracket. Why not keep your eyes open for these period features – you will see them everywhere once you look out for them.