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Corbel Mounted Mantels

Corbel Mounted Mantels Corbels are the delicately carved brackets that are—almost always in pairs! located on both sides of a classical fireplace surround, to support the mantle piece.  Viewed from the front, they lend grace and symmetry to the fireplace surround; viewed from the side, the pair of corbels provide a graceful transition between the vertical planes of the fireplace surround, and the horizontal shelf that is the mantle.  Quite frequently, corbels are carved with the favorite foliage of classical antiquity, the curling and graceful acanthus leaf.  Don’t expect all corbels to take spiraling foliate forms; corbels can also be decorated with reeding, beading, fluting, shells, carvings of masks, animal heads, angels, geometric shapes, or even Disney cartoon characters.
Fireplace surrounds are not the only architectural use of corbels; they also turn up between arches, in the corners of rooms, and supporting architectural brackets or window surrounds. So the corbels of the fireplace surround often match the corbels used elsewhere throughout the architectural space.  Nineteenth century Victorian corbels play with positive and negative spaces, introducing the transitions from light and shade to the corbel’s purely functional aspects.  Decorative as corbels are, remember they’re also functional.  When you’re looking at an older fireplace mantel or a shopping for a new one, you’ll use much the same criteria to assess its quality.  Whether of marble or wood, make sure that either the corbel is carved all of one piece with the fireplace surround, or that it is cleanly joined to the fireplace surround’s vertical elements leaving no distinguishable gap or crack. The two flanking corbels should be perfectly even, of identical size and detail.  It’s all right—take your time and measure the various elements, left and right, to make sure that they’re exactly equivalent—and don’t worry, the craftsperson is happy to know that their skilled work reaches your highest standards.
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