The butterfly as tattoo motif

Butterfly flash from Sebastian Aurich

The butterfly as tattoo motif? Read more about this magical creature master of transformation and let it inspire you for your next tattoo.

Metamorphosis and Camouflage

Butterflies undergo a process of metamorphosis. A caterpillar seals itself within a chrysalis and undergoes a transformation into a butterfly.

In the course of evolution this creature has had to develop plenty of changes to survive its environment and predators.

The wings for instance, can look like dead leaves or animal eyes. The colourful patterns serve to camouflage, frighten enemies, or sometimes attract attention. Bright colours can sometimes act as warning about supposed, or real poison lurking within the butterfly. Harmless butterflies might for instance, mimic a hornet and frighten predators. On the other hand, the colours and patterns can also attract possible partners.

From Milk Thief to Butterfly

The scientific name for butterfly is Lepidoptera which comes from the Greek language and means scaled wings. In German the word Schmetterling stems from the word Schmetten, meaning cream or sour cream. These products attract in fact quite some insects. Hence the words milk thief and milk stealer were established around 500 years ago. Scholars trace the English word butterfly back to this origin as well.

Art and Culture

Did you ever suffer from butterflies in your stomach? When swimming, do you ever do the butterfly stroke? Or are you a bit of a fan of the opera Madame Butterfly?

This insect has always been an inspiration for art, fashion, culture, language and sport. From the insatiable caterpillar to the beautiful and delicate butterfly. It metamorphosis, have inspired mankind for hundreds of years. No wonder then that the butterfly also played an important role in the mythology of different cultures.

In many cultures and religions the metamorphosis is a symbol of immortality, resurrection and reincarnation.

Greek and Roman mythology often represents the butterfly as a symbol for the immortal soul. Egyptians used to immortalise it in ancient grave murals. It is very easy to find butterflies on Christian tomb stones as well, as a symbol of resurrection.

In Asia however, they very often associate the butterfly with bad luck and death. At the same time it can also represent a new beginning.

The Butterfly Lovers

Chinese culture regards the butterfly as a symbol of immortality, and conjugal bliss. When seen with a chrysanthemum, it symbolizes beauty in old age. If seen with a plum, it symbolizes long life. Chinese also believe that butterfly is a symbol of grace and people associate it with romanticism. Two butterflies flying together are a symbol of love.

The butterfly is related to one of China’s best known tragic yet beloved folk tales.”The Butterfly Lovers” or “Liang Zhu” legend is the Chinese equivalent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It tells the story of two 4th century Chinese lovers who could not marry due to different family backgrounds. They therefore turned into a butterfly couple after their death.

One of the most astounding works of art featuring butterflies is Damien Hirst’s piece “I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds“. This piece is from his “Kaleidoscope” series. In the artist’s own words, “references the spiritual symbolism of the butterfly, used by the Greeks to depict Psyche, the soul, and in Christian imagery to signify the resurrection.”

Butterflies and mankind

Butterflies inspired and fascinated mankind throughout history, as countless pieces of art and cultural items as they can testify. The butterfly has also influenced society in one very important way, silk. Most moths spin silk for their cocoons, some of them producing valuable threads.

Originally silk stems from China, where it has been well known for the last 5.000 years. Silk as well as scientific, religious and cultural knowledge came to Europe via the famous silk route. Still today, China is one the foremost producers of silk in the world. Thailand, India, Japan, Italy and others also produce commercial quantities.

Let’s go traditonal

The butterfly as a tattoo motif has always been a part of the traditional tattoo culture. Early tattoo artists created some of the most striking butterfly designs. They would often work symmetrical images such as skulls, owls, and gypsy woman’s faces into the wings. Nowadays, because of the myriad of colours and forms they can take, customers often chose butterflies purely for their aesthetic appeal.

With tattoo legends like Bert Grimm, Christian Warlich or Percy Waters, butterflies have always been among their flashes. Because only a few basic colors, obtained from natural sources, were available for the tattoos. The typical traditional look of black, red, yellow and blue is created. Colors like olive, green, turquoise were created by mixing the primary colors.

If the diverse nature or the historical background is not enough to inspire you, then let us do it for you. Be it through the pattern of the wings or as a hybrid combined with another motif, we will make sure to create an outstanding custom tattoo for you. A woman’s head with butterfly wings for example would be a perfect match for a chestpiece. In any case a butterfly is not a boring motif.

If we have whetted your curiosity and creativity, use our contact form to book your next appointment 😉