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    

Famille Rose Porcelain Hand-painted Butterfly & Horse Vase W Qianlong Mark C161Antique Chinese Vest With Embroidery Details Butterflies Matches Skirt ListingStunning 14k Rose Yellow White Gold 50 Diamond Butterfly Drop Earrings 14k Yellow Gold 2.30 Tcw Sapphire & Diamond Butterfly Back Earrings NaturalExtremely Ornate 14kt Emerald & Pink Sapphire Butterfly Pin "rare" $199Tiffany & Co. 18k. Yellow Gold & 950 Platinum Butterfly Diamond Brooch, VintageCzechoslovakia Large Glass Vase Pinched Sides Butterfly Markings Special VintageTrifari 'jewels Of India' Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire And Diamante Butterfly PinLevian Chocolate Diamonds .65 Cts 14k White Gold Butterfly Diamond PendantVintage 10k Yellow Gold Champagne Diamond Butterfly Necklace 18" .25 Ct Dias.Rookwood 1925 Wax Matte Artist Signed Vase Butterflies 8"15ct/ 15k Gold Diamond & Seed Pearl Victorian Novelty Butterfly Ring, 625Joan Rivers Bejeweled Butterflies Complete Collection With Display Case And CoaTwo Mackenzie Child Ceramic Butterfly Bowls - Pink Yellow Designer Whimsical NlaHeidi Daus Lavintage (jaret Lavin) Triple Strand Faux Pearl Butterfly Floral 1968 Peter Max Boxed Set [cliff Dwellers] Of Iroquois China Butterfly & KalidoscEstate Sterling Silver Barry Kieselstein Cord Butterfly Ring Topaz Kc StudioBarbra Bixby Gem Garden Butterfly, Diamond, White Mother Of Pearl, Blue TopazLarge Antique Chinese Carved Celadon White Jade Butterfly Pendant Amulet 3.875" Franklin Mint Butterflies Of The World And Display Cases14k White Gold Diamond Stud Earrings 0.55 Carats Round Diamonds Butterfly BackButterflies/mounted...ornithoptera Paradisea Arfakensis Male & FemaleCoro Craft Corocraft Sterling Enamel & Pink, Ruby, Pave R.s. Butterfly Clip/pinGorgeous G9.5 Banded Slate Coshocton Co Ohio Butterfly Bannerstone W/ CoaMantis Knives Mk-4 Vuja De Prototype Butterfly Style Knife 9 Of 20Benchmade Butterfly Knife TrainerAntique Victorian All Over Beadwork Panel 6 ButterfliesVintage 14kt Yellow Gold & Chinese Jade Stone Butterfly Brooch Pin W/ Ruby EyesAntique Victorian Trembler Nodder Hat Pin Hatpin Lot : Butterfly And SaphiretVintage 14k Yellow Gold Butterfly Brooch Pin - 4.7 Grams - Etched DesignSid Dickens "butterflies" T-139 *retired*Swarovski Crystal Paradise Astara Light Emerald Butterfly Brooch Retired 250489 Rare Unsigned Schreiner Trembler Points Outward Rhinestones Butterfly Brooch Pin Van Briggle Tile 200? Copper With ButterfliesSwarovski Paradise Astara Fuchsia Butterfly Brooch See NoteBaccarat Crystal Blue Butterfly Signed FigurineBaccarat Crystal Red Butterfly Signed FigurineAntique Chinese Pottery Celedon Plates Set Of 5 Hand Painted Birds ButterflyLalique Crystal Figurine Butterfly Amber French Frosted Crystal GlassVintage Black Hills Gold 10k Grape Leaf Butterfly Ring -size 7Stunning Vintage 9ct Gold Filigree Butterfly Brooch 4.5 Grams Not Scrap Llardo Spain Figurine Japanes Geisha Girl With Fan Madam Butterfly #4991 RetiredSapphire 10k Yellow Gold Filigree Butterfly Design Ring Size 7 (1.65 Grams)Franz Fz00433 Porcelain Butterfly Cake Plate / Tray / Stand Brand New In Box!Hackman Folding Puukko Hunting Knife. Butterfly Lookalike In New Condition.Nice Black Slate Jackson Co Tennessee Winged Butterfly Bannerstone W/ CoaLenox Butterfly Meadow 8-piece Tea SetHalcyon Days Bonbonniere Enamel Pill Box - Painted Lady Butterfly - Insect14kt Yellow Gold Jewelry Chain Anklet Bracelet 9" Butterflies Double CurbLovely Antique Minton H/painted Flowers & Butterfly Handled Cup & Saucer - #b254Antique Handmade Indonesian Batik Tjaps (chops) Copper Textile Stamp ButterflyVan Briggle Tile With Butterfly Corners 6" X 6" Arts Crafts Tile Butterfly Raynaud Metamorphoses Marina Chastenet China Soup Lemoges Serving BowlJoan Rivers Enamel Faux Pearl Rhinestone Rainbow Butterfly Collection Pin BroochFranz Fz00659 Porcelain Butterfly Papillon Dinner Plate / Tray Brand New In Box!F3488: Japanese Old Iron Flower Butterfly Inlay Tsuba Sword Parts, Katana W/boxFenton Art Glass Butterfly Minuet On Turquoise Rose Bowl 3½” Rare Important Chinese Tongzhi Famille Rose Porcelain Bowl W/ Bats & ButterfliesCamel Zippo Lighter Camel 2-sided Butterfly Matching Tin Rare Cz #3655 Wedgwood China Sarah's Garden 6.75" Blue Citrus Butterfly Cereal Dessert Bowls