A centrepiece/centerpiece is a general, broad term for many items that could be used as decorative focal points on a dining table, or to hold necessary items during a dinner service.
Centrepiece is a term which is contemporarily used to describe the arrangement in the centre of a table for guests at a wedding, largely owing to the fact that few people still use traditional centrepieces in the way that they were intended.
Centrepiece is also a term used for purely ornamental items which are placed at the centre of a table for display. Many of these are displayed on plinths, which gives the presentation pieces a greater sense of grandeur.
Centrepieces are often considered to be the most important part of décor in any formal event, because the eyes of everyone around a table are naturally drawn to the centre, therefore spending extra time and care on this aspect of decoration means that a stunning centerpiece will be sure to be both noticed and remembered.
History of the Centrepiece
Centrepieces have been in use throughout the world since the advent of formal dining and the desire to display symbols of one’s wealth and social status through dining decor.
As with so many of our contemporary traditions, the origins of the centrepiece can be traced back to the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
These centrepieces were based on decorative flora and fauna, celebrating nature and the seasons. However, the focus was on the vessel containing the natural decoration, and an ideal of the precious elements displaying the natural. This temporal adornment is the way in which we too envision the perfect centerpiece.
During the Middle Ages, the traditional use of the centrepiece waned, with the focus shifting to the food which was being consumed, rather than the table decoration. The centrepiece was still employed at Christmas though, with evergreen foliage being used to decorate the centre of the table.
The earliest surviving English centrepieces are the epergnes; these were first recorded I England around 1720, having initially been developed in France in the very late 17th century.
At first, these centrepieces incorporated a number of different objects. The norm would be a central tureen, supporting a dish surrounded by smaller dishes attached by branches. Some also had casters for sugar, salt, and mustard, oil and vinegar bottles, and even candle holders.
By the late 18th century, the epergne had developed into a principal basket supported on legs, which was then surrounded by smaller baskets. These gradually became taller and smaller.
With the regency, candle-holders are once more found attached to the centrepiece. An important development was the introduction of sculptural groups to the bases, and these became more and more decorative, until by the mid-19th century, centrepieces were produced which were purely sculptural .
An innovation in the latter years of the 19th century, and one which remained popular in the 20th century, was the assembling of a group of vases to form an epergne.