Formal and informal table setting is a longstanding tradition that continues to be practiced in the modern day. Perhaps you roll out the formal table wares only on special occasions with family, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, or maybe you have a knack for entertaining that you showcase year round. Regardless of the occasion, a dining table is never fully dressed without an impressive centerpiece. Centerpieces act as the focal point of an elegant table. The convention dates back centuries, but naturally, centerpieces became increasingly elaborate and ornate over time. Whether used more functionally to hold condiments, candies, flower arrangements or taper candles or strictly used decoratively to demonstrate fine taste, centerpieces are designed to make a statement. And we are partial to those of exceptional quality! Read on to learn more about different styles of centerpieces to include in your next tablescape.
George II Silver Epergne by Thomas Gilpin
When taking a look at centerpieces, it is essential to start with the épergne
. Pronounced “a-PERN,” épergnes are centerpieces most commonly made of silver or silverplate with a functional design. They feature a raised central bowl with decorative arms extending outwards to support additional, smaller baskets or bowls. The bowls are typically lined with glass to make them even more functional and to protect the silver. You’ll even occasionally find glass inserts in cobalt blue or cranberry red. Timeless by nature, épergnes were a true test of a silversmith’s talents. The elaborate objects began appearing in European homes as early as the 17th century and are believed to have evolved from nefs
, surtout de tables
and silver salts
. In fact, they represent a marriage of these pieces into a single, elegant and practical design. The French aristocracy took a liking to the épergne, which then infiltrated English society in the early 18th century.
George III Silver Epergne. Hallmarked 1766.
When imagining épergnes in English homes in the 18th century, I picture them decorated with highly sought-after pineapples. A fascinating historical tidbit — pineapples were a rare and exotic status symbol amongst the English aristocracy. Imported from the New World, and thus exceedingly difficult to get one’s hands on, it wasn’t uncommon for pineapples to be rented by the day or half day for entertaining purposes before ultimately being sold to an affluent buyer. Whether used for eating or simply decor, pineapples were primarily displayed in an épergne at a table’s center, often clustered among a variety of fruit. The épergne
pictured above is hallmarked 1766 and was made by London silversmiths John Lawford and William Vincent. Decorated with fruit and vine elements, the central basket is topped by two playful cherubs. Measuring 18 1/4" across, this piece functions alone at a smaller dining table or plays well with candlesticks and additional decorative pieces at a larger table.
Ormolu and Cut Glass Table Garniture by Baccarat. Circa 1875
This circa 1875 French garniture by Baccarat
is comprised of five pieces intended to be showcased together on a dining table. Consisting of a surtout de table
(the center of the centerpiece), two tazze
and two candlesticks, all five pieces demonstrate the best quality ormolu (gilt bronze) and cut glass. Similar to the épergne, the garniture
set would be utilized to display sweets, condiments, candles and/or floral arrangements. Oftentimes garnitures like these would be set upon a large mirrored plateau
that runs down the center of the table, which served to amplify its decorative impact. Although a surtout de table refers to any ornate centerpiece, today they evoke an image of a multi-piece set on top of such a plateau. These sets are frequently seen on display in historic house museums of the aristocracy.
Moser Punch Bowl Set. Circa 1880
A punch bowl at this scale (the platter measures 16 1/8" in diameter) deserves to be the center of attention. Created by the Bavarian firm Moser
, known as the "Glass of Kings," the intricate gilded enamel decorations sings on top of the beautiful ruby glass. The only thing better than looking at this masterpiece of glass is drinking from it with seven of your closest friends!
German Silver Candelabra by Bruckmann & Söhne
Candlesticks and Candelabra
are wonderful because they are so versatile. They work well as centerpieces but can be used throughout the home. They take up less space than many centerpieces, making them especially practical when entertaining in a smaller space. Multi-light candlesticks, or candelabra
, create extra drama, but single candlesticks still elevate the ambiance of a room, whether you’re entertaining or simply having a nice meal at home. The above candelabra
were crafted by Bruckmann & Söhne, one of the oldest and most esteemed silver firms in Germany. Their Neoclassical form is distinguished by elegant repoussé fluting that is accented by garlands and swags of drapery. Bruckmann & Söhne are famed for their superior silver workmanship with an oeuvre that spans from the decadent Rococo to the timeless refinement of the Neoclassical. The firm garnered many awards and recognition at the great international exhibitions of the 19th century, including the 1873 Vienna Exhibition, the Nuremberg Exhibition of 1885, the 1896 Stuttgart Exhibition and the iconic Paris Exhibition Universelle of 1900.
The Rundell, Bridge & Rundell Regency Centerpiece and Plateau. Circa 1805
A paragon of Regency splendor, the crafting of this rare and incredible candelabrum centerpiece and plateau
is attributed to London silversmith and sculptor Philip Cornman for Rundell, Bridge & Rundell
after a design by architect Charles Heathcote Tatham. A motif originally created in 1801 for Tatham’s major patron, the 5th Earl of Carlisle, these resplendent bronze and brass ormolu creations illustrate both artisan’s propensity toward grand sculptural masterworks inspired by antiquity. And the centerpieces appearance only improves when candlelight reflects off of the mirrored plateau. Interested in learning more about historic items for the table? Click here
to discover historic recipes to try, or discover your new favorite flatware pattern here