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    

Antique John Atkins & Sons (ja&s) Stg Silver Guilloche Enamel Dragonfly BroochNib "me & Ro" Sterling Silver .925 Dragonfly NecklaceVintage Navajo 10 Dragonfly Cross Necklace Sterling Silver Squash Blossom BeadedWishcraft Chasing Fireflies Dreamy Dragonfly Girls Costume 10 11 12Huge! Gorgeous Natural Pink Rhodolite Garnet-ruby-cz 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochVintage Art Nouveau Enamelled Dragonfly Pendant Stunning !!!Stunning Jewellery Baguette & Ruby Rhinestone Dragonfly Mayfly Brooch Pin Oberon Design Women's Wallet In Dragonfly Pond Design EucFibe Tiffany Studios Reproduction Dragonfly Mosaic Lamp Base!Large Sterling Silver & Turquoise Jewelry Dragonfly PendantSterling Silver - Angel Cherub Dragonfly 4.4g - Brooch Et303110k White Gold Blue Sapphire & Diamond Dragonfly Pendant Brooch PinVintage Wendy Posner Antique Jewelry 925 Sterling Silver Dragonfly Pin BroochReal Purple Pink Rhodolite Garnet, Ruby-cz Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochGenuine 10k Gold Natural Citrine Peridot Dragonfly Butterfly Insect EarringsVintage 925 Sterling Silver Dragonfly Abalone Hinged Wing Ring 6.75Vintage Dragonfly In Amber By Diana Gabaldon Aug.1992 Hc/dj (outlander Bk 2)Salvatore Ferragamo Printed Foulard Silk Tie Blue Butterfly Dragonfly Animal NrSterling Silver - Signed Blue Sodalite Dragonfly 15.3g - Pendant Brooch Gc6011Vintage Jewellery Japan Tin Litho Cicada Dragonfly Moth Insect Bug Pins BroochesCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Bronze Dragonfly Cicada On Bamboo Brush Pot Diana Gabaldon Lot Of 3 Outlander~dragonfly In Amber~voyager~outlander Bks 1-3Alex And Ani Bracelet "dragonfly" Rs Nwt Vtg Tiffany Style Stain Glass Lamp Cobalt Jade Dragonfly Student Desk Piano LampDimensions The Gold Collection-dragonfly Pond #35167 SealedMetal Earth 3d Laser Steel Cut Models;scorpion;beetle;dragonfly;tarantula;mantisKirks Folly Darling Dragonfly Magnifying Glass Necklace SilvertoneWonderful Vintage Sterling Silver + Crystal Stones Dragonfly Pin Brooch - 6 CmAntique Sterling Silver Fire Opal & Garnet Ruby White Quartz ? Dragonfly PendantJames Avery 14k Gold Dragonfly CharmAntique Art Deco Vintage Brooch Pin Dragonfly Confetti Glass Foil 35758 Diminutive Rose Enamel And Black Painted Dragonfly Wing ButtonsHidalgo 14k Gold And Green Enamel Pinkie Ring, DragonflyJames Avery Sterling Silver Dragonfly Charm Worn StampVintage Old Czech Rose Glass Beads Necklace - Dragonfly Pendant10x Xstitch Pattern Dragonfly/xstitchmaniac/ny-nj/borders/labels/mugmats-sn33Neo Art Glass Iridescent Green Lily Pad & Sterling Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonChinese Dragonfly Butterfly Carved Peking Overlay Glass Snuff Bottle#cm-9 Authentic James Avery Charm DragonflyNeo Art Glass Iridescent Blue Heart & Sterling Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonJohn Gilvey 1 7/8" Three Dragonflies With Dichro Center Art Glass MarbleRetired Swarovski Crystal Dragonfly 7615 Nr 000 004 Original Box & CertiicateSouthwest Petite Sterling Silver & Salmon Coral Needlepoint *dragonfly* PendantNeo Art Glass Iridescent Golden Heart & Sterling Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonEx Uk A&m Lp - The Strawbs - DragonflyChristofle Libellule White Porcelain Dragonfly VaseSterling Silver - 3d Dragonfly Bug 4.1g - Charm Pendant Gs8931Dragonfly Altered Art Vtg Postcard Charm By Imcc & Crystal Dangle By Jewel Kade16" X 20" Tiffany Style Stained Glass Window Panel Water Lily Dragonfly LotusJoan Rivers Dragonfly PinRare Consolidated Martele' €Lalique Dragonfly Figurine Soft Green Mint Glass Signed VintageSalvatore Ferragamo Tie Floral & Dragonfly On Dark Orange Silk Necktie10k Yellow Gold Emerald & Diamond Dragonfly PendantAlex And Ani Bracelet Silver Tone Wire Energy - Dragonfly - Item# I657Hand Painted & Carved Fish Decoy - Dragonfly - Folk Art - Ice Fishing Vintage Mexico Dragonfly Sterling Silver 925 Pin Brooch (17.6g)Vintage Dragonfly Sterling Silver 925 Slide Pendant (8.8g)Vintage Mexico Dragonfly Sterling Silver 925 Pin Brooch (13.2g)Kirks Folly Rare Autumnal Butterfly Fairy Pin Dragonfly Leaves Green Ab Crystals