Antique and Vintage Dragonflies

The dragonfly’s ability to move in all six directions during flight, as well as its sparkling, bejeweled tones, have inspired magical associations on all continents. Lakota mythology includes a “Whirlwind” god in the form of a dragonfly, who was worshipped for assisting the tribe in deceiving enemies. Other Native American cultures thought of the dragonfly as an omen of good health; for the Zuni people, killing a dragonfly was actually punishable. The insects were also painted onto Native American pottery or sewn into beadwork on ritual objects.

In Medieval Europe, the dragonfly was referred to as the “devil’s darning needle,” “water witch,” or “snake killer,” nicknames expressing fears of the insect's alleged connection to the supernatural world. The "devil’s needle" moniker migrated to the United States with early European settlers, and has imbued regional folklore with colorful images of the creatures sewing up profane mouths or idle fingers.

The insect became linked with triumph and courage in Japan, where one of the words for dragonfly, “shoryo,” closely resembles the word for victory, “shouri.” The animal’s shape was used in designs for samurai accessories and weaponry, and legend says that one Japanese emperor even temporarily changed the country’s name to Akitsushima, translating to “Isle of the Dragonfly.”

In the 1850s, Japan finally ended centuries of isolationism and opened its borders to trade, sparking an exciting exchange of products and ideas. The International Expositions in Paris during 1867 and 1878 further highlighted the Western world’s newfound fascination with Asian-inspired imagery. The exhibitions showcased artwork like Emile Gallé’s delicate glass vase depicting a dragonfly passing over the folds of a paper fan.

The dragonfly’s complex wing pattern lent itself perfectly to the developing Art Nouveau movement, which emphasized intricate craft design and natural motifs. As the style enveloped the applied arts, dragonflies appeared everywhere—floating in paperweights and amid porcelain patterns, dangling from earrings and pendants, and decorating vases and lamp shades.

By the turn of the century, well-established glass and jewelry designers had incorporated dragonflies into their pieces, as with Baccarat’s dragonfly-shaped cut-glass dish from 1904. The same year, French magazine “Art et Décoration” held a competition for handmade product designs featuring the dragonfly, with entries ranging from an enameled metal belt buckle to ornamental lacework.

French glass and jewelry maker René Lalique often infused his work with repeating images of dragonflies, creating an elegant natural geometry, as seen on his enameled damselfly necklace from 1905. The pendant is made from four crisscrossed dragonflies clustering around a central cabochon, with a single teardrop hanging from their tails. One of Lalique’s most incredible pieces of wearable art is a dragonfly corsage ornament from 1897, with enameled and diamond-set wings, oversized dragon claws, and a head formed from the bust of a woman...

Possibly the most famous dragonfly motif was created by artist Clara Driscoll who worked in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Driscoll’s dragonfly lamp features a repeating pattern of dragonflies placed wingtip to wingtip on its stained glass shade, and was mounted on a variety of stamped bronze or mosaic bases. Color schemes varied according to the craftsperson assembling the piece, with minute glass pieces making up every detail in the dragonfly’s wings. The Tiffany dragonfly lamp received top recognition at its debut in the Paris International Exposition of 1900, just as the Art Nouveau style was reaching its peak.

Dragonfly imagery continued to be widely used in the decorative arts throughout the 1920s, when the transition to abstracted, sleek modernist forms of Art Deco began. However, the mysterious insects are still popular today, especially for subjects on costume jewelry, decorative art glass, and Asian-influenced pottery.

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    

Lovely Antique Art Deco Dragonfly Bug Enamel -opal-brooch Art Nouveau Enamel And Lapis Lazuli Dragonfly NecklaceFabulous Erhard & Söhne, Sohne Art Nouveau Dish With Dragonfly: J167Magnificent J.atkins & Sons Silver And Enamel Dragonfly Brooch Vintage Silver Plique-à-jour Art Nouveau Style Ruby Dragonfly Brooch (r11aRoycroft Pottery Lt. Green Dragonfly Vase East Aurora 9.25" Tall 4"wide 2.5"deepVintage Jewellery Graduating Rhinestone Flying Dragonfly Insect Bug Brooch PinRoycroft Pottery Light Green Dragonfly Dish W/ Lid East Aurora Small 2.5" Diam.Antique / Vintage Solid Silver & Enamel Dragonfly Brooch Costume Jewelry Brooch Pin Lot As Is Statement Butterflies Ladybugs DragonfliesRocki Gorman Gary G. Sanchez Signed Sterling & Turquoise Dragonfly Pendant HugeVintage In Seattle Fabulous Dragonfly Brooch Pin In Box Signed SwarovskiRaymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro With Us NavionicsRaymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro With Us NavionicsRocki Gorman Gary G. Sanchez Signed Sterling & Turquoise Dragonfly Bracelet HugeDragonfly [lp] Original 1968 [ms 1202] *rare Psych Rock* Vintage Tiffany & Co Dragonfly Sterling Silver Large Pendant 2" 2004 NecklaceAudioquest Dragonfly Red DacNavajo Dragonfly Harry Morgan Royston Turquoise Sterling Silver Brooch Pin Rare9ct Gold Diamond & Topaz Dragonfly Filigree Brooch & Safety Chain Not Scrap 4.0gBeaded Dragonfly Medicine Bag ~ Black Powder Reenactment Pouch ~ Silver ConchoDragonfly LampDragonfly Japanese Katana Sword (silver Damascus Blade) Free Scabbard And BagAnn Wynn Reeves Tree Of Life 1950s Tiles Dragonfly & Leaf, Kenneth Townsend EraFine 9ct / 9k 375 Gold Victorian Amethyst Seedpearl Dragonfly Necklace Antique Approx 10" German Kayserzinn Pewter Art Nouveau Flowers Dragonfly Bowl James Avery Dragonfly Finial With Orange Floral CharmVery Good Condition Swarovski Dragonfly Brooch Pin With Original Pouch NrJapanese Cast Iron Teapot Tea Set Dragonfly Ts12-08e S-2085 AuNib Jay Strongwater Dragonfly Frame Cream / Off White, Mini Holds 1.5"x1.5" PicMagenta Rae Dunn Garden Insect Ladybug Bumblebee Dragonfly Serving Tray Rare HtfCitron Santa Monica Women's Silk Sheer Brown Dragonfly Button Blouse Top Size LSterling Silver Jewelry Pin Brooch Lot Seagull Leaf DragonflyCitron Women's Jacket 2x Linen/silk Black With Floral Design & DragonflyHeidi Daus Dragonfly Artistry Amethyst Necklace Swarovski Crystals Magnificent!!Heidi Daus Dragonfly Artistry 3-row Pink Bead Necklace Swarovski Magnificent WowWorld Market Set-of-4 X 9" Green Dragonfly Rim Soup Bowls Bordallo PinheiroJay Strongwater Dragonfly Mini Picture Frame W/swarovski CrystalsSouthwest Silver And Turquoise Necklace With Large Dragonfly Pendant *30214k White Gold Amethyst Dragonfly Pendant 14k White Gold 18" ChainLarge Superb Antique Art Nouveau C 1915 Sterling Silver Dragonfly Brooch PinQuality Reproduction Small Cast Iron Nouveau Dragonfly KettleSigned Hattie Carnegie Gold Dragonfly Insect Faux Turquoise Orb Sphere Brooch NrCarolyn Pollack 14k Gold Sterling Silver Roderick Tenorio Rmt Dragonfly EarringsThe Dragonfly Dioptric Scope Multi Prism Kaleidoscope Lens Van Cort InstrumentsNatural Red Ruby Marcasite Enamel 925 Silver Dragonfly Brooch Pendant S19603World Market Set-of-3 X 9" Green Dragonfly Rim Soup Bowls Bordallo PinheiroZuni Earring Sterling Silver Dragonfly Stunning Handmade Native AmericanChinese Goldfish Dragonfly Carved Peking Overlay Glass Snuff Bottle-real AuctionVintage Antique Silver Rhinestone Crystal Dragonfly Pendant BroochDimensions Gold Collection Counted Cross Dragonfly Pond 35167 Lot Sterling Silver Native American Turquoise Bolo Tie & Big Mexico DragonflyLynnderella Limited Edition Nail Polish—the Dragonflies At Night—#/14Set 6 Vintage Bronze Dragonfly Dragonflies Cabinet Drawer Handles Pulls Sterling Silver Marcasite/garnet Gemstone Dragonfly Brooch/pinSouthwest Silver And Turquoise Necklace With Large Dragonfly Pendant *324Vintage Silver & Bakelite Dragonfly Pin Brooch HallmarkedFranz Porcelain Dragonfly Spoon Fz00141Estate Vintage 14k Gold Dragonfly Small PendantDonald J Pliner "violeta" Dragonfly Thong Sandals Kitten Heels Sz. 9 Embellished