The Butterfly and Moth as Symbols in Western Art

by Ronald A. Gagliardi

The Butterfly and Moth as Symbols in Western Art” is an iconographic study of the symbolism and occurrence of lepidoptera in Western art. Ron Gagliardi’s research into art work depicting butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), exposes numerous lepidopteral symbols. One finds a truly amazing variety of interpretation and meaning in so many different countries, cultures, civilizations and artistic periods.

Butterflies and moths remain prominent in fine art, advertising, fashion and jewelry. Butterfly and the moth constitute one of the major symbols in art with a significant number of major artists incorporating butterfly or moth symbolism.The tables below presents a diverse sampling of butterfly and moth symbolism found by Ron Gagliardi in western art and design, and categorizes the different artistic styles in which butterflies and moths are depicted.

Themes Found In Butterfly and Moth Symbolism

The Sexes: Female, Way to a New Dress, Homosexuality, Temptation, Seduction, Sensuality
Weather: Rain, Omen of Cold Weather, Omen of Sunny or Mild Weather, Omen of Thunderstorms
Supernatural Beings, Creator: Divine Inspiration, Witches, Fairies, Guardian of Tobacco, Bridge, Existence of Creator, Reincarnated Being, Antidote Giver, Spokesman for Raven, Indian Watcher, Dream Carrier, God of Rain Representative
Soul: Resurrection, Soul of Man, Soul of Witches
Harvest: Good Harvest, Fertility of the Earth
States of Being: Omen of Marriage, Omen of Birth, Death, Omen of Death, Youth, Old Age, Life
Time: Day, Night, Spring, Omen of Spring, Summer, Omen of Summer, Winter
Powers: Flight, Spasmodic Flight, Protection, Measuring
Characteristics, Conditions, Qualities: Good Luck, Freedom, Homosexuality, Bad Luck, Nervousness, Change, Inconstancy, Heavenly, Fairy Tale, Social Butterfly, Goals Beyond Reach, Aloofness, Temptation, Foolishness, Insanity, Speed, Sensuality, Self-Destruction, Evil, Good Health, Omen of Sickness, Impermanence, Fragility, Humor, Introversion, Foolishness, Insanity, Speed, Sensuality, Self-Destruction, Evil, Good Health, Omen of Sickness, Impermanence, Fragility, Humor, Introversion, Shyness, Being Poor, Good Aim With a Gun, Cheat in Gambling
Specific Physical Items: Butterfly Kiss, Butterfly Stroke, Butterfly Table, Butterfly Yoga Position
Specific Visual Items: Owl, Map, Dogface, Peacock, Eighty-eight
Miscellaneous Items: Flame, Knowledge, Morning Star, Bridge, Sleep, Thought, Creative Thought, Release of Thought
Ways of Appearing: Beauty of Nature, Beauty of Color, Beauty of Pattern, Beauty of Shape, Beauty of Symmetry, Decoration, Beautiful and Positive, Ugly and Negative
Symbolism Relating To Butterfly and Moth Wings And Bodies
Visual Appearance: Beauty of Nature, Beauty of Color, Pattern, Shape, Symmetry, Beautiful and Positive, Ugly and Negative, Evil, Heavenly, Fairy Tale, Decoration, Flame, Femininity, Sensuality, Homosexuality, Way to a New Dress, Omen of: (Sunny Weather, Fair Weather, Summer, Beneficence of Summer, Rainy Summer, Rain, Thunderstorms, Birth, Death, Marriage, Good Health, Sickness
Physical Appearance: Youth, Old Age, Impermanence, Fragility, Omen of Bad Luck, Appellation of Symbols, Indicative Markings on, Death, Various Animals, Objects, Humor, Indian Watcher
Characteristics: Spokesman for a God (Raven), Knowledge, Guardian of Tobacco, Bridge
Symbolism Relating To Butterfly and Moth Flight
The Power of Flight: Flight, Spasmodic Flight, Freedom, Thought, Release of Thought, Creative Thought, Dream Carrier, Sleep, Bringer of News, Divine Inspiration, Magical or Mythical Beings
Type, Style, Direction or Time of Flight: Spasmodic Flight, Sleep, Homosexual, Nervousness, Change, Inconstancy, Aloofness, Goals Beyond Reach, Social Butterfly, Butterfly Kiss, Temptation, Foolishness, Speed, Flame, Day, Night, Spring, Summer, Death, Rain
Area or Target of Flight: Sensuality, Self-Destruction, Insanity, Attraction, Foolishness, Good Luck, Wedding, Marriage, Death, Cold Weather

Symbolism Relating To Butterfly and Moth Metamorphosis

Stages of Development: Life, Measuring, Protection, Introversion, Shyness, Resurrection
Process of Metamorphosis: Existence of Creator, Creator, Change, Inconstancy, Soul of Man, Soul of Witches, Reincarnated Being, Potential, Omen of Birth, Morning Star

Symbols Relating To Butterfly and Moth Habits

Eating: Being Poor, Antidote Giver, Ugly and Negative
When Active: Day, Night, Omen of the Coming of Winter, Omen of Cold Weather, Summer, Spring
Ambulation: Death
Habitat: Omen of Cold Weather, Rejection of Industrial Society, Nature Itself, Good Harvest, Fertility of the Earth, Beauty of Nature

Symbolism Relating To Butterfly and Moth Enemies

Type of Enemy: Youth
Activity of Enemy: Humor, Bad Luck

Miscellaneous Butterfly and Moth Symbolism

Omen of Bad Luck, Omen of Good Luck, Omen of Death, Fertility of the Earth, God of Rain, God or Creator, Good Aim with a Gun, Marriage, Cheat in Gambling, Temptation, Seducer, Soul

Lepidopteral Styles of Art

Cultures: Mexecal, Amerind, Haida-Amerind
Stylized Art: Abstractive Naturalism, Abstract, Semi-Abstract, Cubist, Pointillism, Fantasy, Psychedelic, Art Nouveau, Impressional, Graphic, Cartoon
Illustrative Art: Elementary, Primitive, Manuscript