A decorative corbel of a medieval man reading a book and kneeling while he supports a small classical molding. It is made of plaster painted with a faux wood finish and mounted on a wooden backboard. It was probably designed as a decoration to be hung high in a library. The design was apparently inspired by early medieval English and Continental church architecture that incorporated gargoyles as water spouts to convey rainwater off the building and by various so-called ornamental grotesques. These included an array of odd human and animal figures, as well as mythical and imaginary creatures. They are thought to have been "guardians" of the building to ward off evil spirits or to show the power of the church. In more modern times, they are often viewed as whimsical architectural elements. In the offered corbel, the man is portrayed more as an amusing bookish scholar rather than a grotesque.
There have been various Gothic Revivals in architecture notably in 19th century British architecture. So-called neo-Gothic architecture was popular in New York City in a subsequent revival from the late 19th century to the 1920s. There are notable examples of stone corbels (architectural supports) in the form of medieval book readers on New York City building exteriors that relate in design to the offered library corbel. The most notable and similar is a corbel in the form of a smiling bearded man holding a book and a quill, incorporated with a series of other corbels on the exterior of the Britannia, 537 West 110th Street. This building was designed in traditional English taste by architects Waid and Willauer in 1909 — probably a similar date to the offered library corbel.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall wear. Some minor chips and abrasions restored.
Carr, Nick. "The Creepy Book-Reading Gargoyle at West 181st Street." Scouting New York. 17 April 2013. http://www.scoutingny.com/the-creepy-book-reading-gargoyle-at-west-181st-street/ (13 June 2016).
Carr, Nick. "The Hungry Gargoyles of 110th Street." Scouting New York. 2 July 2009. http://www.scoutingny.com/the-hungry-gargoyles-of-110th-street/ (13 June 2016).