A butterfly vase is an open container decorated with butterflies. They are designed to hold flowers and sometimes umbrellas and parasols. Others are used just for display purposes and have no functional value placed upon them. A butterfly vase can be made of porcelain, glass and crystal with its value depending on its age, provenance and quality.
Art forms across the world have taken to depicting butterflies because of their various meanings. This ranges from Mesoamerica to China, via ancient Greece and Europe. Mayan and Zapotec cultures equated butterflies with fire, while the Chinese saw one butterfly as a young man in love. The Japanese and Greeks, meanwhile, saw the butterfly as the representation of a human soul. Western culture often links butterflies to fairies due to the similarities of their wings.
China’s Qing Dynasty produced a number of quality porcelain butterfly vases. Wucai porcelain is particularly famous. The Chinese liked to combine butterflies with dragonflies and flowers. A pair of butterflies together often represents a pair of young lovers. Such porcelain pieces were hand-painted before a protective coating was applied.
Chinese butterfly vases have gained international attention. In 2008, a Qianlong period butterfly vase was valued at $6.9 million US Dollars (USD) when put up for auction. The vase was imperial famille pink and painted with butterflies and flowers such as morning glories, hibiscuses and carnations. The vase stood 18 inches (45.7 cm) high.
Ceramic vases with butterfly motifs have been found in parts of Mexico. The butterfly motif was particularly linked to the city of Teotihuacan, but also spread to the Escuintla region in modern-day Guatemala. Other vases depict human-butterfly combinations and deities wearing butterfly headdresses.
The butterfly vase is also made out of glass and crystal ware. Glass blowing tends to lead to abstract representations, as with the peacock vase. Other designs are placed onto a normal vase base as decoration. These tend to be multicolored affairs. Crystal ware, as found in Waterford, Ireland, uses lead as a calcium replacement to give it its unique look.
A modern butterfly vase can either hark back to ancient designs or represent other artistic forms from abstract to art deco. Many manufacturers and artists put their own spin on butterfly motifs and, so a full range of options are available. Vases where the glass is shaped or the pattern is hand-painted tend to be more prestigious and expensive. Vases using print painting and add-on decorations tend to be of lower value.