The word "corbel" comes from the Latin corbellus, a diminutive of corvus (a raven) on account of the beak-like appearance. Italians express the concept of the corbel as mensola, the French as corbeau or as cul-de-lampe, the Germans as Kragstein.
Norman corbels generally have a plain appearance. In the Early English period they sometimes became elaborately carved, as at Lincoln, and sometimes more simply so, as at Stone. They sometimes end with a point apparently growing into the wall, or forming a knot, as at Winchester, and often are supported by angels and other figures.
In the later periods the foliage or ornaments resemble those in the capitals.
The corbels carrying the arches of the corbel tables in Italy and France were often elaborately moulded, and sometimes in two or three courses projecting over one another; those carrying the machicolations of English and French castles had four courses.
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 style are found in them. Throughout England, in half-timber work, wood corbels abound, carrying window-sills or oriels in wood, which also are often carved.
A corbel table is a projecting moulded string course supported by a range of corbels. Sometimes these corbels carry a small arcade under the string course, the arches of which are pointed and trefoiled. As a rule the corbel table carries the gutter, but in Lombard work the arcaded corbel table was utilized as a decoration to subdivide the storeys and break up the wall surface. In Italy sometimes over the corbels will form a moulding, and above a plain piece of projecting wall forming a parapet.
Initial text from a 1911 Encyclopaedia. Please update as needed.