A corbel usually is made of stone and it is used on buildings with the purpose to support a structure that is situated on top of it. To understand more easily this old architectural technique that has been use for more than 100 years think about the corbels that support balconies and parapets.
Corbels have been used by every culture on the planet.
Corbels are in a way brackets because they support shelf structures. There are cases when corbels are used to hide structural gutters by supporting other structures. Although corbels once played a large part in structural integrity, modern use is strictly limited to decorative accents.
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