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    

Heavy 18k Wg 1.82ct Diamond & 19 X 14mm Turquoise Butterfly Motif Cocktail RingVintage Marius Hammer Sterling Silver & Lilac Enamel Butterfly Pin Brooch NorwayBeautiful Chinese Near White Jade Carved Snuff Bottle 19th C. ButterflyExquisite Timeworn Antique French Hand Painted Butterfly Candle Lamp Shade C1850Vtg Navajo / Hopi Hand Stamped Silver And Turquoise Butterfly Bracelet / CuffArt Nouveau Silver & Enamel Butterfly Broach Murrle Bennett Horner 1915 AfNymphenburg Ted Muehling Butterfly Lady Bug Plate Apple Green. Mint Condition.Pins Disney Auctions Alice In Wonderland Butterfly And Flowers Le 100Rare Philco Model 45 Compact 45c Butterfly Grill 1934 1935 Wood Table Tube RadioSterling Silver - Norway Hroar Prydz Enamel Butterfly 3.2g - Pendant Ev2442Vintage Chinese Gold Gilt Silver Enamel Carved Jade Butterfly Dangle Earrings14k White & Yellow Gold 2.16ct Sapphire Diamond Earrings W/ Butterfly Backs Nr!Sterling Silver Jewelry Cuff Bracelet Dragonfly Moth ButterflyRare Real Morpho Butterfly Wing Sterling Silver Art Deco Art Nouveau NecklaceEstate $3525 14k Yellow Gold Natural Red Garnet And Opal Butterfly Ring 1.80 CtsFenton 6509 Vf Lotus Mist Green Burmese With Butterfly EpergneLarge Vintage Zuni Sterling Silver Turquoise Butterfly Pin-southwest NativeVery Rare Aynsley Butterfly Handle Trio Kirks Folly Everlasting Love Fairy Butterfly Wind Chime GoldtoneVintage Oriental Cup And Saucer Rhombus With Butterfly Handle - 65 P13Vintage Aynsley Style Scenic Cup And Saucer With Butterfly HandleSwarovski Crystal Astara Light Emerald Butterfly W Stand Mint W Box & CertVintage Jewellery 925 Silver Marcasite & Real Mother Of Pearl Butterfly Necklace19c Victorian Nude Girl Woman French Bronze Statue Figure Vase Butterfly Moreau~Extraordinary Antique~ Vtg Japanese Satsuma Porcelain Button W/ Butterfly TrioAntique Japanese Oriental Cloisonne Flower & Butterflies Charger - Lovely!Old Chinese White Jade Nephrite Carved Carving Belt Buckle Butterfly MothAdorable Estate 10k Yellow & White Gold Diamond Butterfly Pendant Retail $2625Antique Victorian Brass Hanging Oil Lamp Etched Butterflies & Flowers Shade 19cVintage Pyrex Butterfly Gold Nesting Mixing Bowl Set Of 4 - RareAntique Japanese Ginbari Cloisonne Vase Butterfly Pattern Japan Meiji PeriodAntique Cobalt Blue White Salt Glazed Stoneware Butterfly Butter Tub Crock YqzVintage Hand Sewn Feed Sack Cotton Applique Butterfly Quilt; Excellent ConditionFine Antique Victorian Foreign Export 925 Silver Gilt Paste Butterfly Brooch Dead Pawn Navajo Handmade Turquoise & Spiny Oyster Butterfly Sterling Bracelet Aynsley Fine Bone China Cup & Saucer With Butterfly Handle & Cornflower Design48x45mm. Rare! Real Emerald Sapphire,ruby Sterling 925 Silver Butterfly BroochKirks Folly Mariposa Butterfly Leverback Earrings Silvertone / PurpleExquisite 19thc Chinese Silk Sleeveband, Butterflies, Grasshoppers & MoreJames Avery Sterling Silver 925 Small Spring Butterfly Charm 1/2"Signed Kidney Shape Russian Lacquer Box W/ Princess, Frog & ButterflyCs Go Butterfly Fn Fade 50/50 :)Old Pawn Navajo Hand Stamped Sterling Silver Turquoise Butterfly Concho Belt | G10k Yellow Gold Diamond Cut Butterfly Matte Finish Womens Bracelet.7''. 7.3 GramRare Carolyn Pollack Sterling Spiny Turquoise Amethyst Butterfly BraceletMeiji Japanese Satsuma Bowl Thousand Butterfly Geisha Figure Figurine Mk RestoreCarnival Glass Fenton Butterfly And Berry Ball And Claw Footed Vase IridescentSmall Job Lot Vintage Antique Morpho Butterfly Wing Jewellery Items Some SilverFenton Mulberry "butterfly Courtyard" Vase Connoisseur Collection Limted EditionVintage Pyrex 401 750ml Butterfly Gold Small Corning Usa Mixing Bowl No Reserve!Original Antique Art Nouveau Oil Painting Portrait Figure Woman Butterflies Red14k Yellow Gold Pink Opal Butterfly Bypass Ring Size 7 Not Scrap 4 Grams (15)Swarovski Crystal Butterfly Large Var 3 Mint In Box With Cert!!!Vintage Aksel Holmsen Norway Sterling Silver Blue Enamel Butterfly BroochRare Advertising Torpedo Sewing Pins Tin 1910's Butterfly BlechdoseFine Antique Japanese Meiji Satsuma Pottery Bowl 1000 Butterflies Signed Antique Victorian Butterfly Wing Siilver Large Brooch – Circa 1900Old Royal Bayreuth Butterfly PitcherGenuine Pandora Pink Butterfly Kisses Murano Glass Charm Geniune Pandora Blue Butterfly Kisses Murano Glass Charm