Arnstein, Fanny von (1758–1818)

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Arnstein, Fanny von (1758–1818)

Austrian-Jewish patron and philanthropist, known throughout Europe for her Viennese salon that attracted many of the leading composers, musicians, writers, and thinkers of the day, who left a permanent mark on European culture. Name variations: Baroness von Arnstein. Born Franziska Itzig in Berlin, Germany, on November 29, 1758, into an epoch of rapid emancipation and assimilation for the Jews of German-speaking Central Europe; died in Dreihaus near Vienna on June 8, 1818; daughter of Daniel Itzig (1723–1799, a wealthy banker and court financier) and Marianne (Wulff) Itzig (1725–1788); married Baron Nathan Adam von Arnstein (a Viennese banker), in 1776; children: daughter Henriette (1780–1879, the Baroness Pereira).

Entertained artists and political leaders; played a major role in the cultural life of Vienna, supporting Mozart and Beethoven; helped found the Society of the Friends of Music; encouraged many talented artists; her influence was at its height during the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), when "the Congress danced" in her glittering ballrooms; as a leading arbiter of taste, her decisions regarding clothing and entertainment often set new styles, including the introduction of Christmas trees to Vienna; an ardent Austrian patriot, she organized the nursing of soldiers wounded in the Napoleonic wars; she never converted to Christianity, preferring to keep her Jewish faith; as one of Europe's intellectual and social arbiters, she played an important role in the Age of Enlightenment.

Franziska Itzig, later known as Fanny, was born in Berlin, Germany, on November 29, 1758, the eighth child and fourth daughter, of Daniel and Marianne Itzig . She came from a large family of 15 children, five sons and ten daughters. The Itzigs did all in their power to develop their large brood's natural talents. Visiting Berlin in 1772, the Danish philosopher August von Hennings wrote of Daniel Itzig's family, "He has sixteen [sic] children of whom some are already in independent positions, while others have just reached the age when beauty begins to unfold. The daughters' loveliness is enhanced by their talents, especially for music, and by their well-refined minds." Family wealth gave Fanny and her siblings the best educational and cultural experience available at the time.

The Itzigs were not "old money." Daniel Itzig was the son of a horse dealer and purveyor to the Prussian court. As a young man, Itzig purchased the right to reside in Prussia and further improved his lot by marrying into the wealthy Wulff family. After a complex business career in which he was known by several names (Daniel Berlin or Daniel Jaffe), he arrived in Berlin in 1750 as a member of the select group of Schutzjuden (Protected Jews). Soon Daniel Itzig served as purveyor of silver to the Royal Prussian Mint, a position that led to contracts financing Prussia's involvement in the Seven Years' War. In 1761, he was granted the rights of a Christian merchant. Jews were second-class citizens in most of Europe, so Itzig's ability to achieve equal status was of great importance. His wealth grew as he expanded his activities into banking and manufacturing. In time, he became the richest man in Prussia, perhaps in all of Europe.

The daughter of prominent parents was expected to marry well, an expectation Fanny fulfilled. In 1776, she married the Viennese banker, Baron Nathan Adam von Arnstein. The Arnstein family had played a significant role in Austrian economic life since 1705. Nathan's grandfather, Isaac Aaron Arnstein, was involved in many complex financial transactions, including the redemption of the Spanish crown jewels from pawn. Despite his important position as military purveyor to Emperor Charles VI, the elder Arnstein never forgot his precarious role as a court Jew. In 1736, Isaac used his financial influence to stop the authorities from expelling Vienna's Jews. Isaac Aaron Arnstein's son Adam Isaac Arnstein (1721–1785) continued to expand the family wealth and influence. Also active in Jewish community affairs, he defended the interests of the Jews of Prague, Hamburg, and Saxony. Adam Isaac's son Nathan Adam (1748–1838) made substantial loans to the enlightened Emperor Joseph II, a deeply committed reformer, whose Edict of Tolerance in 1781 and 1782 would grant Jews significant legal rights.

Fanny von Arnstein soon became a star in the Austrian capital's social and intellectual firmament. Fanny loved to put celebrities at ease in the comfort of her many sumptuous homes. She knew how to stimulate and entertain artists and politicians alike. For a generation, she held open house for Europe's most brilliant individuals, receiving all with generosity and graciousness. A contemporary described Arnstein in these terms:

Tall and slender, radiant with beauty and grace, of elegant manner and tone, of vivacious and fiery expressions, combining a sharp mind and with a gay disposition, well-read and a master of foreign languages as well as of her own, she was a most striking and strange phenomenon in Vienna. Attributes few women in high society possessed were noticed with wonder in a Jewish woman whose refinement and freedom of spirit, nurtured by the beneficial influences of Frederick the Second's reign, seemed all the more effective in a city where these virtues scarcely existed, but where they had begun to be desired and to be esteemed.

Von Arnstein's enthusiasm for music provided her first entree into Viennese society. Soon after her arrival in Vienna, her ardor for music became widely known. She formed a close relationship with Aloysia Lange , Mozart's former sweetheart and future sister-in-law. Perpetually strapped financially, Mozart often depended upon Fanny and her husband. For a period of months, he even lived with the Arnstein family. Later Fanny von Arnstein also assisted Ludwig von Beethoven financially. Patrons like Arnstein were of critical importance to these artists.

Although she moved in Vienna's highest social circles, Arnstein faced religious prejudice as a Jew. The Empress Maria Theresa (1717–1780) forbade all unconverted Jews to live in the capital without her permission, stating, "I know of no worse plague of the state than this nation, on account of its frauds, its usury and money deals, its way of reducing people to beggary through evil deeds which other honest men disdain. Wherefore it is to be kept out of here and reduced as much as can be." Although she was anti-Semitic, Maria Theresa was not a racist. She was more than happy to welcome Jews who converted to Christianity to her court with open arms. For example when the great social reformer, Joseph von Sonnenfels, became Catholic, he also became a court favorite.

Despite pressure to convert, Fanny von Arnstein did not choose this path. Her avenue to social success was not dependent on religious conversion. Befriending von Sonnenfels, she gained access to the highest officials of the Habsburg court. She established a close friendship with Caton von Preissing , wife of the secretary to the Imperial Court, and gained further influence at court. She frequently attended Mozart's subscription concerts, a strategy that paid rich rewards socially. The chronicler Franz Gräffer described Arnstein as a woman of impressive intellect "whose opinions were rightly considered as much as, and indeed more than, those of an entire Academy of scholars." When Joseph II succeeded Maria Theresa to the throne in 1780, Gräffer noted that he conversed with Fanny "whenever he caught sight of her," a sure sign that she had gained complete acceptance in royal circles.

Like many aristocrats, Joseph II was not immune to Fanny Arnstein's physical and intellectual charms. A remarkably tolerant man, Nathan von Arnstein suffered his wife's involvements, even when scandal threatened. Arnstein had a widely publicized affair with Prince Karl von Lichtenstein, but this did not deter Baron von Weichs from falling in love with her. Determined to have Fanny all to himself, he challenged Lichtenstein to a duel and killed him. The magnanimous Nathan ignored the incident, which only served to heighten Fanny's dominance of the Viennese social scene.

Fanny von Arnstein always offered something new and different. She made frequent visits to her family in Berlin, bringing back the latest trends in the arts, sciences, and philosophy as well as intriguing gossip about the political and cultural elite of the Prussian capital. She also brought a new form of entertaining to the Central European capital. In the past, Vienna's aristocracy had never mixed socially with the bourgeoisie. This, however, had changed in Berlin, a city like Paris, where nobles and merchants intermingled with artists, musicians, writers, and philosophers at political and social events. Fanny Arnstein introduced this novel concept to Vienna, where salons flourished. In fact, her determination to bring nobles and commoners together helped transform the Central European city from a provincial capital to one of Europe's important cultural centers. The sumptuous Arnstein mansion in the heart of Vienna was rivaled in elegance only by the Arnstein villas at Schönbrunn and rural Baden bei Wien. All of these establishments offered superb food, seductive music performed by the city's best artists, and brilliant conversation. Guest lists invariably included the most eminent names of the day. No one in Europe was immune to the lure of Fanny von Arnstein's numerous soirées.

Attributes few women in high society possessed were noticed with wonder in a Jewish woman whose refinement and freedom of spirit … seemed all the more effective in a city where these virtues scarcely existed.

—August Varnhagen von Ense

Arnstein moved quickly to establish rapport with the new emperor. Determined to implement religious toleration and other Enlightenment ideals, Joseph II worked to harness Jewish talent and energy for the benefit of the Habsburg empire. Arnstein's pleas on behalf of her fellow Jews found a sympathetic ear and may have persuaded him to issue the Toleration Edicts of 1781–82, granting the Jewish minority more civil rights than any other European state. For the first time Jews no longer were required to wear a Star of David, were allowed to wear normal clothing, and were permitted to learn handicrafts. In fact, Joseph II encouraged them to stimulate the national economy by opening shops and factories. In her biography, Fanny von Arnstein: A Daughter of the Enlightenment, 1758–1818,Hilde Spiel explains how this remarkable woman lobbied on behalf of her fellow Jews.

How did she manage to succeed in overcoming the difficulties in her path? Her early attempts to vanquish the disadvantages of her origin can be traced, here and there, in contemporary writings. From these isolated references we learn that she was a friend of Joseph von Sonnenfels, the baptized Jew and great social reformer, that she attended Mozart's subscription concerts in the mixed company of Austrian noblemen, courtiers and wealthy converts formerly of her own faith, and that she won the esteem and admiration of such writers as Alxinger, the pupil of Wieland. We are told that she went to see the Emperor Joseph soon after his succession, while he was preparing his famous "Patent of Tolerance," to plead for her people.

Not only did Fanny von Arnstein gain greater tolerance for Jews in the Habsburg empire, she also benefitted personally from Joseph II's enlightened attitudes. In April 1798, Nathan was elevated to the Austrian nobility as a freiherr (baron) of the Holy Roman Empire and Fanny became a freifrau (baroness). The witty Prince de Ligne, a refugee from the French revolution who had settled in Vienna called the new freiherr "the first baron of the Old Testament." Joseph II was well ahead of his time. It would be a number of decades before the Jewish Rothschilds were elevated to similar noble status in Great Britain, for example.

As a child of the Enlightenment, Fanny von Arnstein had a French soul. Although she was intensely loyal both to her native Prussia and to her adopted nation of Austria, she remained devoted to French culture. Throughout her life, she retained a liberality of spirit, broadmindedness, and a devotion to the French language. Besides German and French, she had a reading knowledge of Italian, English, and Czech. She was most comfortable with French, however, and her intimate diaries were written in that language. One of the many admirers of the Baroness von Arnstein, Gottlieb Hiller, noted the international spirit which predominated at her gatherings stating, "Greeks, Russians, Frenchmen and Dutchmen … flow together as it were into one European people, through a common French conversation."

Fanny von Arnstein was soon joined in Vienna by two of her sisters, Cäcilie von Eskeles (1760–1839) and Rebekka Ephraim (1763–1847), who also became champions of a renascent German culture. In letters to Cäcilie and Fanny, the greatest German writer of the day, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), expressed gratitude for their tireless efforts to popularize his works in Vienna. The Itzig sisters were quick to recognize young talent, befriending and supporting individuals like the Viennese writer Franz Grillparzer, who did much to establish an autonomous tradition of Austrian literature.

Arnstein's French loyalties were challenged when Napoleon Bonaparte's armies swept across the European continent in the early 19th century. She vigorously argued for a strong Austro-Prussian coalition to challenge Napoleonic hegemony, and her salon served as a clearing house for anti-French sentiment. When French armies occupied Vienna in 1809, she continued to confront the conquerors. Because of her determined resistance, Nathan von Arnstein's banking house subsidized the Tyrolean uprising of 1809. Fanny worked tirelessly to ameliorate the misery of the homeless civilians and wounded soldiers alike. Thanks to her efforts, large amounts of money were raised in Vienna's Jewish community for war-relief efforts. Not only Fanny and Nathan, but other members of their extended family also joined the struggle against the French. Her nephew Moritz Jonathan Itzig (1787–1813) volunteered for the colors and died a hero's death at the battle of Lützen in 1813.

Fanny von Arnstein reached the zenith of her social success at the Congress of Vienna. For many months in 1814–15, Vienna was host to the leading sovereigns and politicians of Europe who labored to sweep away the specter of revolution and redraw the map of the Continent on a stable basis. To lighten the burdens of their geopolitical tasks, Fanny brought all of Europe to her lavish establishments. Her salon and ballrooms glittered with native Viennese and foreigners, emperors, kings, and princes. Diplomats rubbed shoulders with poets while merchants and bankers exchanged gossip with painters and sculptors. The names of her guests during this crucial period in Europe's history were a who's who of power and influence, including Tsar Alexander I of Russia, Arthur Wellesley, duke of Wellington, the Prince of Hardenberg, Count Klemens von Metternich, and the Greek leader Alexander Ypsilanti. The Vatican was represented by Cardinal Ercole Consalvi and the Papal Nuncio Severoli, while the world of letters and ideas had such intellectual luminaries as the brothers Schlegel, Karoline Pichler , Theodor Körner and Baron Humboldt. When her spacious apartments were too small for guests, Fanny hired one of Vienna's largest ballrooms, decorated it in the most lavish fashion, provided splendid evenings of entertainment, "and the Congress danced."

Tolerance was the hallmark of Fanny von Arnstein's life. A child of the Enlightenment, she believed that all faiths were equal before a reasonable and tolerant Deity. Her biographer Hilde Spiel notes:

For the Baroness von Arnstein, ennobled with her husband in the year 1798, had never been and was never to be baptised. Unlike all other heroines of the Jewish emancipation, Dorothea Mendelssohn, Rahel Levin [Varnhagen], Henriette Herz, Marianne Eybenberg, Sara Grotthuss , and Marianne Saaling , she remained faithful to the creed of her fathers. With the exception of her sister, Cäcilie von Eskeles, who emulated her in every way, she was the only one of their famous generation to be buried, when she died in 1818, according to the ancient rites, and to be laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery at the Währingerlini in a sarcophagus, which stands today in a wilderness of broken tombstones and weeds.

Fanny Arnstein had not eschewed baptism from orthodoxy or bigotry comparable to that shown by Empress Maria Theresa. Throughout her life, she was a pupil of Moses Mendelssohn, a firm believer in his theory of the equality of all religions, as symbolized by the Fable of the Three Rings in Gotthold Lessing's Nathan, whose model the philosopher had been. And because she believed that all religions were equal before God, she did not object to her only daughter Henriette's conversion.

It was not by accident that Henriette (1780–1879), her daughter, the Baroness Pereira, continued her mother's salon. Held every Friday, such eminent artists as Franz Grillparzer, Adalbert Stifter, and Heinrich von Schwind were always on hand at Henriette's. In fact, hers was one of the few places where Austrian culture flourished in an atmosphere of tolerance in the decades before the revolution of 1848 when the social order was at its most repressive in the Habsburg monarchy.

Fanny von Arnstein left a permanent imprint on Central European culture. She imported the custom of decorating the Christmas tree from Berlin to Vienna, creating a sensation that caught on throughout the empire. Europe's Age of Enlightenment ushered in many new ideas, the most important being the concept of intellectual, social, and religious freedom. The group that benefitted the most from the Enlightenment were the Jews, who had been kept in ghettoes for centuries, living a way of life very different from that of their Christian neighbors. Jewish acceptance into larger European society was made possible partly through salonniéres like Fanny von Arnstein. These women introduced the musical, literary, and artistic works of Europe's most talented men and women. Women like Arnstein believed a common humanity linked all races in the family of man.

Reason, tolerance, and rational thinking reigned supreme during the Enlightenment, and it is probably not by accident that this period of European history was more influenced by women than any other before or since. In salons from Paris to Vienna and from St. Petersburg to London, brilliant women created a new age. Fanny von Arnstein left a permanent mark on Central European culture. Her patronage gave the world great music by Mozart and Beethoven. Austrian literature also benefitted from her patronage. Arnstein touched almost every facet of European culture. The centuries that followed have not been characterized by enlightened tolerance. Yet wherever tact, kindness, intellectual brilliance, and tolerance thrive, Fanny von Arnstein's legacy still lives.


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John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Arnstein, Fanny von (1758–1818)

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