The colorful, teasing, fluttering insect known as the butterfly—which goes through drastic transformations over its lifetime, including a caterpillar stage and chrysalis in a cocoon—has been associated with rebirth, reincarnation, and the afterlife since before recorded history. The light, jittery motion these delicate creatures make as they pollinate flowers is also associated with the giddy feelings of falling in love.

Ancient Egyptians, as well as ancient Mesoamericans in Teotihuacan, Mexico, used butterfly symbolism in their tombs and temples. In Teotihuacan, a butterfly shown in the maw of a jaguar represented the reincarnated spirit of a dead warrior. The Japanese also thought the butterfly was the embodiment of a human's soul, living or dead. One butterfly in your room might mean your love is coming to visit, but a mass of them could be a warning of death and destruction. In China, two butterflies dancing together in the air represents love. In many cultures, when a butterfly lands on you, it is seen as good luck. Hence, butterflies have a long history of appearing as motifs in art pottery, jade carvings, screens, scroll paintings, and fine jewelry.

Collecting actual butterflies didn't become a craze until the 19th century in Europe, when the Victorians became fascinated with natural history. Then it was quite common for amateur entomologists to run around with butterfly nets and preserve their catches in display cases. While this phenomenon helped scientists with species identification, it may have also led to the extinction of certain species.

During the Victorian Era, real butterfly wings, particularly those of species with a vibrant, iridescent blue color, were also delicately hand-painted and incorporated into lockets and charms. The shimmering cobalt could represent the ocean or the twilight sky in these miniature paintings. Eventually, butterflies were also encased in clear resin as paperweights and other items.

The mysterious, shape-changing nature of the butterfly, as well its intricate and lusciously colored wings, made it the perfect subject for the Art Nouveau movement, which celebrated intricate craftsmanship and organic, flowing imagery. Art potters and glassmakers, in particular, were inspired to experiment with colorful slips, glazes, and glass colors that could achieve the effects of butterfly wings.

Vases made by glass artisans and companies such as Emile Gallé, Daum Frères, and Steuben, as well as potteries like Zsolnay, Sèvres, Massier, Rozenburg, Rookwood, Moorcroft, Minton, and Royal Doulton, depicted butterflies in luxurious colors and swirling Art Nouveau imagery. Louis Comfort Tiffany also replicated the elaborate colored scales of butterfly wings in his stained glass, while butterflies also appeared in the bronze bases of his flower lamps.

Butterfly figurines have been a common subject for glassmakers; Waterford Crystal butterflies are particularly popular. In the 20th century, American manufacturers like Fenton, Imperial, Cambridge, and Westmoreland made butterfly ornaments, ashtrays, and candleholders...

These beautiful insects also made a natural subject for jewelry, fine and costume. Butterfly brooches, pendants, and charms have been made with gemstones, rhinestones, filigree, Bakelite, enamel, shell, or incised stones designed to imitate the wonders of their wings. Hats and hairpieces have also incorporated butterfly figures, and butterfly-printed fabrics have been used in vintage clothing.

Unfortunately, the butterfly's reputation has been sullied a bit in recent years. Many conspiracy theorists insist that the monarch butterfly, which may migrate thousands of miles in its lifetime, are an example of MK-ULTRA, a covert CIA human experimentation program started in the early 1950s. Modern pop stars who've incorporated butterflies in their fashion or their videos are often said to be victims of supposed "Monarch Programming."

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Navajo Silver Butterfly Spiderweb Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace19th Century Tao Kwang (1821-1850) Antique Chinese Porcelain Butterfly Hat Stand14k Gold 1904 Waltham Hunting Case Ornate Pocket Watch W/butterfly Enameled Dial'butterfly Dude' A Southern Surreal Folk Art Face Jug Sculpture By Ron DahlineFine Antique Chinese 2 Color Jade Melon Shaped Snuff Bottle Butterfly Stopper NrAntique Art Nouveau Fairy Lady W/butterfly Wings Figural Bronze Dresser Tray YqzModern Designer 14k White Gold Green Aquamarine Diamond Butterfly Earrings!Original Vintage Art Deco Sterling Silver & Butterfly Wing Brooch (t152)Tiffany & Co. Butterfly Pendant Silver No Chain Free Uk Shipping - Never UsedJes Maharry High End Sterling Multi-gemstone Butterfly Charm Estate Necklace A Rare Chinese Qing Dyansty Embroidered Butterfly Silk Robe.Vintage Ruby Seed Pearl Silver 14k Gold Flower Butterfly Drop Dangle Earrings NrAntique Chinese Hard Stone Snuff Bottle Cat & Butterfly Ancient Coin Qing --- NrLarge David Anderson Norway Silver Gilt & Enamel Butterfly Brooch Fab!Roderick M. Tenorio Carolyn Pollack Designs Sterling 14k Butterfly Rare BroochHalcyon Days Porcelain Silver Scent Perfume Bottle Flower Basket And ButterflyRookwood Vase Xxv 2072 Arts & Crafts Pottery, Moth Or Butterfly, Matte Yellow Stunning! Huge 3" Vtg Amber Ab Glass Rhinestone Butterfly Brooch Pin! Lo172Ja& Sons Silver & Enamel Butterfly Brooch Insect Art NouveauAntique Royal Worcester Porcelain - Butterfly Wing Handle Cabinet Cup & Saucer Van Cleef & Arpels Two Butterfly Between The Finger Diamond Ring Size 53Pretty Set Of 6 Antique Hand-engraved Butterfly Silver Tea Spoons Glasgow 1886Vintage Zuni Butterfly Pin - Intricate InlayVintage David Anderson Sterling Silver & Red Enamel Butterfly Brooch (t32)Hroar Prydz Norwegian Sterling Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch Norway2 Vintage Mackenzie Childs Blue/white Butterfly Garden Enameled Mugs/cups Nr Yqz3 Vtg Mackenzie Childs White Butterfly Garden Charger/salad/dinner Plates Nr YqzRare Paragon Teacup & Saucer - Butterfly Handle, Pink & Blue With Floral DesignArt Nouveau Antique Butterfly Wing Sterling Floral Drop Lavaliere Necklace C1910Antique C. 1920 Art Deco 18k Yellow Gold .92 Ct Diamond Butterfly Brooch Pin!A Rare Chinese Qing Dyansty Embroidered Blue Butterfly Silk Robe.Beautiful Antique Cantonese Piano Shawl Butterflies 32" X 32" Some FlawsVintage Zuni Inlay Butterfly Pin - Collector QualityBeautiful Vintage Blue Yellow Sterling Silver Butterfly Brooch Marked NorwayWatt Pottery Butterfly Decorated Bean Pot Base -very Scarce PatternVtg #3 Aynsley"love In The Mist" Tea Cup & Saucer Trios Butterfly Handle Ca 1931Tiffany&co Sterling Silver Ladies Retired Estate Butterfly Ring Size 7.5 & Bag 2 Vintage Mackenzie Childs Blue Butterfly Garden Breakfast/serving Bowls Nr YqzVtg #1 Aynsley"love In The Mist" Tea Cup & Saucer Trio Butterfly Handle Ca 1931High End Tabra Sterling Silver Multi-stone Carved Butterfly Charm Pendant 7.8gr Vtg. Navajo Butterfly Pin/brooch-sterling Silver/turquoise-southwest NativeJames Avery Open Butterfly Earrings Sterling Silver RetiredAntique Chinese Embroidered Silk Robe Butterflies Gold Metallic Textile Flowers ~vintage Crown Trifari Gold Tone Blue Green Rhinestone Butterfly Brooch Pin~14kt Yellow Gold Jewelry Lot Of 6 Earring Butterfly Backings 2 Matched PairsA Vintage Sterling Silver Butterfly Bookmark, Fully Hallmarked For 1995Laguiole "butterfly" By Armand Cayzac Presented By David DauvillaireVtg #2 Aynsley"love In The Mist" Tea Cup & Saucer Trios Butterfly Handle Ca 1931High Quality Brooch Lot 120 Pcs Pin Butterfly Rhinestone Enamel Flower Bird Q303Huge 230 Pc Vintage Brooch Pin Lot Enamel Butterfly Figural Flower Holiday Uu2Authentic Trollbeads Retired "summer Butterfly"Vintage Pewter Delightful Butterfly Pill Trinket Box Signed WoodsettonVtg #4 Aynsley"love In The Mist" Tea Cup & Saucer Trios Butterfly Handle Ca 1931Trifari Crown Signed Gold And Smokey Rhinestone Butterfly Pin BroocheLovely Butterfly Wing Sterling Silver Pendant With Flower C1920Authentic Pandora Sterling Silver Bead/charm 790895 Butterfly Garden Open WorkVintage Silver & Plique-à-jour Butterfly Brooch - Cultured Pearl Drop (m7)Vintage Antique Art Deco 1930's Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing Pin Brooch 6.13gAuthentic Pandora 925 Silver Charm Fluttering Butterflies, Pink Enamel 791483en6Van Cleef & Arpels Flying Beauties 18k. Two Butterfly The Finger Ring Size 6.75