What Is a Butterfly Vase?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

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.

Discussion Comments


@lighth0se33 – That sounds like a cool vase. Do you put flowers in it, or is it just for decoration? I think if I had a transparent one, I might use it as a shelf ornament rather than to hold bouquets.

The butterfly vase that I have is opaque. All four sides are covered in paintings of irises, hyacinths, and butterflies.

What is neat about this design is that the flowers are stacked up all around. Different blooms show up at different heights, so you have a bunch of flowers all over with butterflies on various ones. It looks natural, like a garden of color.


I am very impressed by handpainted butterfly vases and the artists who paint them. I have one that is extremely colorful, and the paint job is amazing.

The shape of the vase is also unique. It funnels out from a small base, but angles are 90 degrees, so it's rectangular. However, the small sides are curved outward.

The butterfly incorporates all the colors of the rainbow. One large butterfly covers one side, and a smaller butterfly, along with a dragonfly, decorate the opposite side. The glass is a transparent purple color, so you can see both designs at once.


My boss has a butterfly vase on her desk modeled after the Chinese style. It has butterflies, dragonflies, and flowers etched into the glass.

The vase dips down to a V on two sides, and a butterfly is right beneath this dip. Right alongside the butterfly is a dragonfly. The flowers grow up from the base and nearly touch the bottom of the butterfly's wings.

I know it's not one of the original Chinese vases, because she told me that she got it for $50 at a home décor store. It is very beautiful, though, and I think it could easily be worth more than she paid for it.


The most beautiful butterfly vase I have ever seen is made of clear glass. The butterflies have been etched into it, and a small amount of semi-transparent white paint has been added to the etching for extra detail.

The vase itself is slightly wider and taller than a drinking glass. Its shape is similar to that of a tumbler.

I do put flowers in the vase, but I like to put food coloring in the water, since you can see it through the glass. If I put white flowers in the vase with red food coloring, they will turn pink. It is very interesting to see pink water inside of a butterfly vase.

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