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 Guilloche Enamel Button With Gold Butterflies Marked SwissAuthentic Pandora Set - Roses Spacers And Pave Butterfly Ale 925 791257aczAntique 18k Gold Enameled Butterfly Pin 7.4 Grams NrVintage Volmer Bahner Denmark Sterling Silver Blue Enamel Butterfly BraceletTwo Similarly Decorated Antique Chinese Four Sided Bowls W Butterflies + MarksA Charles Horner Silver Citrine & Enamel Butterfly Hinged Hat Pin Chester 1907Lundberg Studio Art Glass Dichroic Lampwork Butterfly & Flower PaperweightAntique 30.04ct Jade Ruby Butterfly 14k Gold Butterfly Brooch Pin 11.3 GramsVintage 14k Yellow Gold Carved 4.0ct Opal Butterfly BroochRare Large 19thc Gien Faience Bird & Butterfly Jardiniere Planter - AntiqueRelios Carolyn Pollack Sterling Turquoise Shell Butterfly Enhancer Pendant J L14k Solid Gold Top Quality Vintage Natural Solid Opal Butterfly Ring Sz 6 LovelyVintage Crewel Work Embroidered 22" X 20" Grasshopper & Butterfly Picture PanelSet Of 3 Victorian Crystal Etched Kerosene Oil Gas Lamp Light Butterfly ShadesSublime Antique French Silk Brocade & Damask Curtains Flowers Butterflies 19th CBaccarat Vintage Art Glass Paperweight, 1977, 41/250, Signed, Flower & ButterflyElizabeth Locke 19k Gold Venetian Glass "putto With Butterfly" Intaglio EarringsVintage 1960’s Crown Trifari Modern Mosaics Blue Green Butterfly BroochFine Victorian Topaz Silver Butterfly BroochJapanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "flying Butterfly And Lilly" @w983Art Deco Ja&s Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch/pin - Suffragette! 14k Yellow Gold Pendant With Marquise Ruby And Sapphire ButterfliesJames Avery Retired Butterfly Charm/pendantBarbara Bixby Purple Enamel Butterfly Pearl Earrings Ss 18k Topaz Retired & Rare Men's 1951 Lord Elgin. Butterfly Lugs. 2-tone Dial. 21 Jewels. No ReserveD Lot 2 Vtg Norway Sterling Silver Butterfly Pins Pink Blue Enamel Holmen MyhreVtg Chic Hand Embroidery Cut Pieced Stitched Floral Butterfly Applique QuiltExcellent Aksel Holmsen Norway Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Butterfly PinAntique Hand Embroidered 50" X 4" Butterflies & Flora Chinese Panel SashJane Seymour Butterfly Open Heart Sterling Silver Necklace 18" 14k Genlty UsedEarring Backings Butterfly 14 Kt Yellow Gold Marked JewelryLot Vintage Costume Jewelry Huge Butterfly Brooch Pin Sterling Rhinestone EnamelVintage Hand & Machine Sewn Feed Sack Cotton Butterfly Applique Quilt Top 75"69"James Avery Spring Butterfly Large Pendant 925 Sterling Silver Swirl ScrollEstate 1.09ct Fancy Yellow Diamond 18k Gold Butterfly Ring 7.8 Grams Nr10k Yellow Gold Oval Blue Topaz Pendant With Two ButterfliesRoyal Albert 1930s - Florette Pattern - Butterfly Handle Tea Cup & Saucer Nr10k Yellow Gold Genuine Mystic Topaz & Diamond Butterfly Ring App 1.51ct Size 7 Swarovski Paradise Butterfly Green Leaf Base Crystal Figurine Retired FigureLot Of 5 14k Yellow Gold Butterfly Earring Backings Mis Matched14k Solid Gold Large Vintage Filigree Butterfly Brooch Pin 5.2 Grams! Not Scrap!2.72ct Natural Blue Topaz & Diamond 3 Stone Butterfly Pendant 14k Gorgeous Herend Hungary Handpainted Cake Serving Plate Tray With Floral Butterfly DesignAuthentic Pandora Pink Butterfly Kisses Murano Glass Charm 791621Vintage Silver Plated Filigree Butterfly / Moth Brooch In Ciro Box - V10 N02Marius Hammer Norway Gold Washed Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch - DamagedAntique Carlton Ware Covered Trinket Box With Birds & ButterfliesLarge Antique Art Deco Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Butterfly Brooch PinGeorge Jones Majolica Tray; With Raised Wheat, Butterfly, Dragonfly & BeeVintage Navajo Silver And Turquoise Butterfly Pin And EarringsHenning Norway Wood Carving Troll Doll Butterfly On Nose Holding Pants OnJiku5037 Ctha Japan Scroll Tani Buncho Flower & ButterflyVintage Pyrex Butterfly Gold Lasagna Casserole Baking Dish Pan 9 X 13 933 Vintage Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing Pendant W/17.5" Sterling Chain, Unmarked10k Yellow Gold Genuine Topaz Peridot & Diamond Butterfly Ring App 1.5ct Size7 10k Yellow Gold Peridot Blue Topaz & Diamond Butterfly Ring 3.2g Size 7 Nr3 Vintage Pyrex Compatibles Glass Butterfly Gold Nesting Mixing Bowl Set SealedAuthentic Pandora Blue Butterfly Kisses Murano Glass Charm Antique Small 900 Silver Enamel Butterfly Gemstone Brooch/pin2 Superb Silver Mounted Butterfly Wing Pendants-one Tlm The Other Patented