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    

Arts And Crafts Silver Enamel Butterfly Moth Brooch Antique Paste Restored 63gAntique Vintage Nouveau 14k Gold Silver Diamond Ruby Sapphire Butterfly Brooch!Japanese Cloisonne Vase Silver ButterfliesEstate Diamond 0.66ct Sapphire 14k White Gold Double Butterfly Ring 5.4 Grams NrSo Magnificent! Mens 1930's Jaeger - Lecoultre Vintage Skeleton Watch Butterfly!2 Gallon Decorated Butterfly-flower Stoneware Crock Pot - Edmands & Co..Pre-1948 Mexico Sterling Silver Carved Jade Art Deco Butterfly Bracelet 155 Grms14kt Yellow Gold Round Diamond Half Hoop Stud Earrings O.35 Ctw Butterfly BacksAntique Old Victorian Gold Filled Butterfly Heart Seed Pearl Moonstone Necklace Lalique-925-sterling Silver Pink Crystal Papillion Butterfly Pendant. Vintage Butterfly Art Deco 3.4 Gram 14k White Gold Diamond Sapphire Ring Size 6+Elec Blue! Fenton Panther Carnival Glass Bowl Iridescent Butterfly Cat AntiqueDisney Store Alice In Wonderland Caterpillar Butterfly Tsum Tsum Mini S PlushOld Chinese Silk Womans Robe Textile With Nice Color And ButterfliesRoyal Albert Crown China Butterfly Handle Cup And Saucer Embossed FlowersVintage Navajo Butterfly Rug Design 1960’sOld Chinese Silver Enamel Jade Carved Carving Butterfly Moth Pendant Pin BroochHeidi Daus Butterfly Necklace And RingDivine Panel Antique French Printed Linen Chinoiserie Scenes & Butterflies C1930Art Deco Butterfly Wing Framed PicturePlatinum .72cttw Diamond Stud Earrings W/14k Butterfly ClutchFine Pair Chinese Cloisonne Vases With Mirrored Floral & Butterfly Decor 19thc Beautiful 19thc Chinese Silk Sleevebands Butterflies Birds RosesGlass Paperweight – Orange Butterfly On Green Lace – 2 ¾”Vintage Art Deco Butterfly Wing Sterling Silver Jewellery Inc. T. L. M RingJames Avery Sterling Butterfly Hook On Bracelet 8.4gVintage Eames Era Modernist Renoir Copper Butterfly BraceletJapanese Six Sided Ginbari Cloisonne Vase "no" Butterfly Mark$4,949 Solid 18k Gold Diamonds Emerald Ruby Sapphires Butterfly Estate NecklaceRecommendaaa Natural Smoky Quartz 925 Sterling Silver Butterfly Earrings/e1405118 Size United States Marion Butterfly John Lewis Keywind Movement & DialCharming Yellow Gold Natural Ruby Diamond Filigree Butterfly Insect RingGood Large Chinese Porcelain Jardiniere & Stand - Dragon & Butterfly Decor 19thcAntique Art Deco Vogue Mirror Powder Compact Butterfly Wing Sunset Scene SilverLundberg Glass Paperweight – Butterfly & Flowers – Signed & Numbered – 1982 – 3”Good Canton Chinese Porcelain Tea Pot With Figural, Bird & Butterfly Decor 19c Tiffany & Co. 3/4" By 5/8" Butterfly Charm/pendant In Sterling SilverGenuine Trollbead Silver Butterfly CharmExquisite Antique Honiton Lace 12" Handkerchief Thistle & ButterfliesQuirky Hand-made Sterling Silver Flower & Butterfly Ring - Size P - V03 N03Vintage Zuni Silver Butterfly Pin - Signed14k Solid Yellow Gold Micro Mosaic Opal&onyx Butterfly Pendant Necklace 20"Sterling Silver - James Avery Butterfly Cross 1.9g - Charm Pendant Ze7042Retired James Avery Sterling Silver Solid Flat Butterfly Unusual Charm Pendant Antique Micro Mosaic [pietra Dura ] Floral Plaque Butterfly And RosesVictorian Gold And Silver Inlaid Pique Butterfly BroochVintage Hand Sewn Butterfly Quilt Needs Some RepairAntique Art Deco Gwenda Mirror Powder Compact Butterfly WingJewelry Set Ruby 925 Sterling Silver Butterfly Earrings/e14079Sterling Silver - Signed Diamond Accent Onyx Butterfly 7.3g - Pendant Zv5212Vintage Fornasetti Tray Butterflies Immaculate Condition NrLalique - Unusual Green Glass Butterfly - C 2002Vintage Jewellery Delightful Italian Silver Butterfly Flower Pendant NecklaceSuperb Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing Large Brooch 1930s RareVintage Jewellery Beautiful Three Tone Metal Butterflies BroochFine Japanese Edo 18-19th Century Samurai Antique Tsuba Butterflies & Peony C343Exquisite 1887 Royal Worcester Large Ewer / Pitcher Butterflies Botanical Ferns Royal Albert 1930s - Wild Rose Floral - Butterfly Handle Tea Cup & Saucer Nr Butterflies Red Japanese Antique Cloisonne Pot Tiny Delicate Wire Amazing Art James Avery Butterfly Charm