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    

Rare Antique Mechanical Clockwork Automaton Butterfly Jewelry Store Display Sign Philco Model 45c... 1934 Butterfly... Tube Radio..... Beauty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Vtg Antique Edwardian Art Nouveau 900 Silver Paste Butterfly Moth Insect BroochLe Vian 6.35ctw Sapphire Ruby Diamond 18k Gold Butterfly Pendant Necklace SetVery Nice Old Chinese Silver, Enamel & Turquoise Bracelet Butterflies 31 GramsAntique Charles Horner Signed Sterling Silver & Enamel Butterfly BroochOld Chinese Jade Coral Kingfisher Gilted Silver Butterfly Hair Pin (04191502)Fine Antique Chinese Enamel Filigree Silver & Jadeite Floral Butterfly Brooch Lot Of 22 Vintage Embroidered Pillowcases ~ Roses, Belle, Butterflies, CrochetAntique Chinese Carved Lapis Lazuli Beads Enamel Silver Butterfly Necklace QingStunning Vintage Gold Tone Unsigned Weiss Rhinestone Butterfly Brooch!!! 1176uVintage Lilly Pulitzer Zuzek Key West Hand Print Fabric 2 Yds Butterflies RosesGenuine Thomas Sabo Butterfly CharmAntique Chinese Export Sterling Silver Bracelet Enamel Jade Butterflies Vtg 42grMoorcroft Butterfly ClockAuthentic Pandora Charm Sparkling Butterfly #791257acz Box Included$1,000 .21ct Natural Diamond Butterfly Ring 14k White Gold Victorian 1891 Pickle Castor From New Haven Silver Plate Co., Butterfly On RoseAntique Norway David Andersen Enamel Sterling Butterfly Pin Brooch –100 Years Large Vintage Norway Sterling Enamel Butterfly Pin, Hans Myhre, Hoar Prydz2-1/2” Enamel Hroar Prydz Norway Sterling Butterfly Pin – Light Damage$650 2.25ct Natural Peridot & Citrine Butterfly Pendant 14k Yellow Gold Lenox Butterfly Meadow Oblong Covered Butter Dish - NewInsect Butterfly Moth Papilio Ascolius Sarapiqui (zalates)-very Rare Female!!!Antique Meriden Usa Silver Butterfly & Lions Chocolate Coffee Pot C1900Colorful Vintage Gilt Sterling Silver Enamel Butterfly BroochLot 5 Colorful Costume Jewelry Butterfly Brooches Or Brooch / Earring SetsNorway Marius Hammer Sterling Enamel Butterfly Pin Brooch - Light DamageVintage Brooch Pin Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing Tropical Scene 925 OldJames Avery Sterling Silver Open Butterfly RingDealer Or Collector's Lot 3 Weiss Rhinestone Butterfly Pins, 1 W/ EarringsThe Botanic Garden Portmeirion Teapot ~dog Rose ~ Flowers Butterflies BeesSuperb Chinese Vintage Gilt Silver Filigree Bracelet Enamelled Butterfly StonesAntique Japanese Cloisonne Butterfly VaseLady's Landstrom's Sterling & 12kt Black Hills Gold Butterfly Cuff Bracelet-7"Estate 10k Yellow / Rose / White Gold Mom Butterfly Ring 1.4g Size 7.25 Nr18 Kt Chopard Butterfly Ring DiscontinuedAntique Chinese 19thc Silver Pendant X2 Butterfly Bat Duck Bird /lock Boy Basket18k 2 Tone Multi Diamond Butterfly Dangle Pendant W/ Midas 14k Gold Chain NecklaDealer Or Collector's Lot 5 Colorful Costume Jewelry Butterfly Brooch PinsRare 3 Dimensional Butterfly Sterling Guilloche Enamel By Einar ModahlAuthentic Pandora Love Takes Flight Butterfly Charm.Fenton Glass Butterfly Iridescent Vase Mint # 1522Fenton Satin Glass Hand Painted Fairy Lamp Artist Signed Flowers ButterflyNative American Immense Butterfly Ring,41gr Chavez,turquoise,sterling Silver,8.5James Avery Mariposa Sterling Silver Butterfly Ring Size 7.5Two Delicate Sterling Silver Filigree Butterfly Pins W/ Enamel WingsVntg Navajo Stamped Silver Butterfly Pin W/turquoiseFine Victorian Silver And Coloured Paste Glass Butterfly BroochVintage Shiptons Hand Painted Butterfly Wings Picture (jw3)Vintage Opro Norway Sterling & Enamel Butterfly Pin$500 6.50ct Natural Multi-color Gemstone Butterfly Necklace Gorgeous Colors Authentic Pandora Silver Fluttering Butterflies Pink Enamel Bead 791483en6880231# Japanese Kimono / Furisode / Karieba / Cherry Blossom With ButterflyFenton Butterfly Antique Carnival Art Glass Two Handled Bon Bon~scarce Green!Large Ivar Holth ( Or Holt ) Sterling Yellow Enamel Norway Butterfly Pin Brooch Alex And Ani Silver Butterfly Charm Bangle Bracelet Authentic Pandora Butterfly Garden Charm6 Test Color Hagen Renaker Mini Butterflies T-122Authentic Bvlgari 18k Ring. Genuine T&c Bangle 925 & James Avery Butterfly Brace