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 Aksel Holmsen Silver And Enamel Butterfly Brooch PinkParagon Butterfly Handle & Large Rose Teacup & SaucerVintage Ja&s 1086 Silver And Enamel Butterfly Brooch Yellow John Atkins & SonsWonderful Antique Chinese Silver Enamel Bracelet Butterfly With White Jade*vintage Aynsley Butterfly Handle Coffee Pot Tea Set Cups Saucers Pink White*Antique Vintage 925 Sterling Silver Enamel Norwegian Chinese Butterfly BroochFine Paragon China Green & Black Cup & Saucer Figural Butterfly Handle EnglandLimoges 19c Porcelain Plates Cobalt ~ Gold Encrusted ~ Butterfly ~ FlowersGorgeous 14k Yellow Gold Butterfly Ring With Sapphire And Diamond! #e58Vintage Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Spiney Oysrer Large Butterfly PendantAntique Chinese 19thc Famille Rose Vase - Birds & Butterflies - CantoneseVtg Zuni Anselm Wallace Turquoise Butterfly Sterling Squash Blossom NecklaceRare 1930 Shelley 11758 Deco Yellow Butterfly Wing Mode Shape Cup Saucer.05 Ct Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Butterfly Pendant 1.4 GramsFine Antique Chinese Qing White Jade Butterfly And Lotus Moth$950 .60ct Natural Round Cut Diamond Cluster Butterfly Pendant 14k GorgeousVintage Jewellery Super Japanese Images Enamel Bracelet & Butterfly Earrings50ct If Natural Green Amethyst 925 Sterling Silver Butterfly Earrings/e00387Antique Victorian Sterling Silver Butterfly Swallow Bird Brooch X2Antique Chinese Yixing Teapot Enameled Design Marked Butterfly Estate CollectionOld Winged Butterfly Bannerstone Butler County, Ohio Indian Artifact ArrowheadLarge Hand-crafted Sterling Silver Navajo ButterflyRoyal Copenhagen Very Rare Vase With Butterfly Rim #255Vintage Art Deco Sterling Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch James Avery Sterling Silver Spring Butterfly Charm SmallOld Winged Butterfly Bannerstone Indian Artifact Hancock Co. Ohio ArrowheadBenchmade Bali-song Butterfly Knife TrainerFine Sterling Silver 925 Art Deco Enamel Butterfly Necklace Beautiful Antique Art Nouveau Silver & Rock Crystal Butterfly Wing Brooch (c7)Gorgeous Juliana Delizza & Elster Demi Parure Butterfly Brooch & Earrings Set!Pretty Vintage Art Deco Silver Butterfly Wing Brooch Antique Silver & Enamel Butterfly Brooch. C1920Navajo Chavez Butterfly Turquoise Divine Ring,75 Grams Sterling Silver,size 8Stunning X Large Juliana Delizza & Elster D&e Butterfly Brooch Navettes ChatonsJames Avery Small Butterfly Charm In Sterling SilverVintage Enamel And Silver Butterfly BroochVintage Sterling Silver - Larome Jalmex Lapis Inlay Butterfly - Necklace (21.5")Magnific Hand Painted Butterfly Tea Cup And Saucer Aynsley Vintage Jewelry Lot Animal Birds Insect Butterfly Figural Brooch/pin RhinestoneFantastic Natural Fire Opal,fancy Sapphire Sterling 925 Silver Butterfly BroochVintage 14k Yellow Gold Enamel Diamond Butterfly Necklace 14kt 3.5gr StunningVintage Zuni Anselm Rosita Wallace Turquoise Butterfly Sterling Silver RingFine Vintage 9ct / 9k 375 Gold Diamond Butterfly Earrings 14k Lapis & Diamond Butterfly Pin, 12.7 GramsJames Avery Sterling Silver 925 Filigree Butterfly Charm Bracelet 7" Free ShipTwinkling Aaa Blue & White Cubic Zirconia Sterling 925 Silver Butterfly Ring 7Fine Art Set Natural Amethyst 925 Sterling Silver Butterfly Earrings/e00382Luxury Rainbow Fire Opal,fancy Tourmaline,sapphire 925 Silver Butterfly BroochButterfly KnifeVintage Zuni Anselm Rosita Wallace Turquoise Butterfly Sterling Silver BraceletJames Avery Sterling Silver Butterfly Stud EarringsArt Deco Luster Noritake Butterfly Vase Rare!ex!sheldon & SayoChinese Cloisonne Baluster Vase With Gilt Wire Butterflies & Flowers 19thcTwinkling Aaa Multi Color Cz Round Sterling 925 Silver 3-tone Butterfly Ring 7.5Insect Butterfly Moth Nymphalidae Charaxes Fournierae Fournierae-very Rare!James Avery Rare Retired Butterfly,lady Bug Earings,ring,pendant And Charms.niceAntique Chinese Jade Butterfly PendantVintage Enamel Flower Pin Earring Lot Gerry's Gerrito Bsk Rhinestone ButterflyStunning Vintage Signed Weiss Blue Rhinestone Butterfly 2 1/4" Brooch!!! G1622Amazing Baccarat Crystal Glass Butterfly In Box Mint