Fanny Baronin Von Arnstein

November 29, 1758–June 8, 1818

by Petra Wilhelmy-Dollinger

Fanny von Arnstein portrayed in a Kininger mezzotint after Guerin, 1804.

Institution: Gidal-Bildarchiv im Salomon Ludwig Steinheim-Bildarchiv für deutsch-jüdische Geshichte e.g., Duisberg

In Brief

Franziska “Fanny” von Arnstein, who rose to the rank of baroness, navigated the artistic and political upheaval of the Napoleonic Era as a hostess of salons that welcomed celebrities. The respect she garnered as a salonnière fostered the growing acceptance of Jews in Viennese high society. During the Napoleonic Wars from 1805 to 1815, von Arnstein aided the sick and wounded and financially backed a rebellion against the French occupying force. At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), she brought together intellectuals and politicians in hopes of adding equal rights for Jews to the new constitution for the German Federation, but her allies did not push back when they encountered strong opposition. Exhausted by the war, von Arnstein retired to her counry seat after Napoleon’s defeat.

Fanny von Arnstein, patroness of music, arts, and literature, was the outstanding salonnière of her time in Vienna. The high esteem in which she was held contributed much to the growing acceptance of Jews in the high society circles of Vienna.

Early Life

Born in Berlin on November 29, 1758, Vögelchen or Franziska (Fanny) was the eighth child of the banker Daniel Itzig (1723–1799) and his wife Mariane (Mirjam), née Wulff (1727–1788). Fanny’s father, court-financier to King Frederick II of Prussia, was the senior head of the Jewish community there and in 1791 (by a naturalization patent of Frederick William II) gained full civil rights. Growing up in a rich and cultivated household, young Fanny received an excellent education under the influence of Moses Mendelssohn’s reforms and Berlin enlightenment ideals. In 1776 she was married in Berlin to the Viennese banker and merchant Nathan Adam Arnstein or Arnsteiner (1748–1838), the son of Adam Isaac Arnstein(er) (1715–1785) and Sibilla (Bela) Gomperz (d. 1787). He was ennobled in 1795 and made a baron in 1798 for his contributions to Austrian finances; his nephew was the writer Benedict David Arnstein (1765–1841). Nathan Arnstein’s parents may have had some reservations regarding the modern ways of their beautiful daughter-in-law, who discarded the traditional headdress of married Jewish women and tended to dominate her husband. Fanny von Arnstein regarded religion the way Lessing’s parable of the rings had taught her; the idea of conversion did not appeal to her, though she tolerated the conversions of others. From the fact that Anna L. Staudacher has found Arnstein (in the church register of the Viennese Calvinist parish) as a godmother of the niece of an esteemed servant of hers in 1804, we cannot conclude (as Staudacher tends to do) that she was a convert. Accepting a godchild was merely a kind and generous social gesture by Arnstein, without special religious content, because the real godmother was her proxy, i.e., the child’s aunt. Given this context and the fact that Arnstein received a regular burial in the Jewish cemetery, Staudacher’s interpretation must be rejected. Goodness and loyalty, frankness and quick temper were Arnstein’s chief characteristics.

Although Fanny liked Vienna, she remained attached to Prussia and frequently returned to Berlin, where she gave birth to her only child, Judith, later called Henriette (1780–1859), on her twenty-second birthday in 1780. On the same day the old Empress Maria Theresia died in Vienna. Emperor Joseph II (1741–1765–1790), who was on friendly terms with the Arnsteins and seems to have admired brilliant Fanny, was now free to pave the way for some reforms (including religious tolerance). However, even at the turn of the century Jews were still denied many civil rights (e.g. religious community rights and real estate ownership in Vienna).

Life as a Salon Hostess

Fanny von Arnstein’s salon developed quickly by the mid-1780s. For a long time the upper classes in Vienna had been cultivating a genuine taste for music. Fanny, a gifted pianist herself, admired Mozart’s genius and attended his subscription concerts. She loved books and reading and spoke several languages, but never became an author or even an assiduous letter writer. Her social talents created a pleasant atmosphere in her salon, where guests from different ranks of aristocratic and bourgeois society met. An album by Joseph Fischer, presented to Fanny by her friends (c. 1793), contains pencil portraits of two dozen members of her circle, among them her intimate friend Carl Prince Liechtenstein (1765–1795). In December 1795 Arnstein became the innocent cause of his tragic death when the prince, quarrelling with another of Arnstein’s admirers about accompanying her to the opera, was killed in the ensuing duel. The town house of the Arnsteins was at the Graben, from 1804 Am Hohen Markt. They also acquired country houses in the Braunhirschengrund on the road to Schönbrunn (Bei den drei Häusern, 1794) and in Baden near Vienna, where they entertained guests in summer. The most intimate glimpses at the family receptions have been preserved by Henriette von Arnstein’s friend Sophie Brentano (1776–1800; sister of the poets Clemens and Bettine), who visited Vienna in 1797–1798. Her letters convey the picture of a lively household, of warm friendship and a literary enthusiasm which embraced Kotzebue as well as Schiller.

At the turn of the century there seems to have been no jour fixe at the Arnsteins’; their house was open every day, apparently even from noon to midnight and after, probably with the exception of the theater-hours. Politicians, diplomats, and publicists were habitués. A good friend was the reform politician and director of the academy Joseph Freiherr von Sonnenfels (c.1733–1817), who had become an influential patron of the arts. Friedrich Gentz (1764–1832) proved a false friend. He had moved from Berlin to Vienna in 1802, became a close adviser to Metternich, and turned anti-Jewish and politically reactionary. Karl August Varnhagen von Ense’s (1785–1858) appreciation and praise of Arnstein was honest, though sometimes intermingled with a few needle-pricks. Among the guests were Horatio Lord Nelson (1758–1805) and his lover Emma Lady Hamilton (c.1765–1815), the composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752–1814), Fanny’s niece Lea Mendelssohn (1777–1842) and her children, the Schopenhauer family, the playwright August von Kotzebue (1761–1819) a,nd the novelist Caroline Pichler (1769–1843). Visiting salonnières from Berlin were Arnstein’s sister Sara Levy (1761–1854), Henriette Herz (1764–1847), and Rahel Levin-Varnhagen (1771–1833).

Around 1800 Fanny von Arnstein’s salon became the center of a cooperating salon network of intellectual and musical women in Vienna. In 1800 Arnstein’s sister Caecilie Wulff (1760–1836) married Nathan von Arnstein’s associate Bernhard von Eskeles (1753–1839), and in 1805 another sister, Rebecca Ephraim (1762–1846), also came to Vienna. Other women belonging to her circle (and keeping literary tea-tables themselves) were Bernhard von Eskeles’ sister Eleonore Flies[s] (1752–1812) and Fanny von Arnstein’s two nieces: the author Regina Frohberg (Rebecca Friedländer; 1783–1850) and her sister Marianne Saaling (1786–1868), both née Salomon; Mariane von Eybenberg, née Meyer (d. 1814) and Dorothea Schlegel (Brendel Mendelssohn, 1764–1839), the wife of the critic Friedrich Schlegel.

In 1802 Arnstein’s daughter married the banker Heinrich (Aaron) Pereira (1773–1835). The couple converted to Catholicism and in 1812 received a barony. Henriette von Pereira-Arnstein, who was an excellent pianist, imitated her mother’s salon on a smaller scale and was a friend of Haydn and Beethoven, Ottilie von Goethe, and the poets Theodor Körner, Franz Grillparzer, and Adalbert Stifter.

Work during and after Napoleonic Wars

From an otherwise enjoyable journey to Paris in 1801 Fanny had returned full of distrust for Bonaparte’s politics. During the Napoleonic Wars (1805–1815) Arnstein and her daughter proved themselves to be true patriots and did much for the sick and wounded soldiers. Andreas Hofer’s uprising in Tyrol (1809) was financially aided by the Arnstein family. Anti-Napoleonic guests (including Mme de Staël in 1808 and 1812) found a warm welcome. Even members of the temporary French occupation forces liked the salon, indulgently smiling about the charming hostess’s political views (or secretly sharing her criticism of Napoleon). Aware of her social responsibility as a wealthy woman, Arnstein supported countless charities and in 1811 was a founding member and committee woman of the Society of Noble Women for the Promotion of the Good and Useful. In 1812 she helped to organize successful amateur charity concerts; and when Fanny von Arnstein’s friend Joseph Sonnleithner (1766–1835; author of Beethoven’s Fidelio libretto) conceived from these the idea of founding the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna (1812–1813), Fanny encouraged it. As a custom from Berlin, Fanny von Arnstein and her daughter had introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna by 1812, but in an intellectual version with little poems accompanying the presents.

The climax of social activities in Arnstein’s salon was reached during the Congress of Vienna in 1814–1815. There were splendid dinners, tableaux vivants, piano performances by young Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864), and so on. Tuesday was the regular reception day by now (with musical soirées), though friends visited daily. Diplomats from all over Europe were among the guests, including Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), Cardinal Ercole Marchese Consalvi (1757–1824), and Charles-Maurice, Duke of Talleyrand (1754–1838). Arnstein’s salon was a headquarter of the Prussian delegation: not only her nephew, the diplomat Jacob Salomo Bartholdy (1779–1825) and her old friend Varnhagen (with his wife Rahel) came, but also Karl August Prince Hardenberg (1750–1822), Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), Friedrich August Staegemann (1763–1840), and others. During the first months of the year 1815 Arnstein’s Prussian friends tried to put their ideas about equal civil rights for Jews into the constitution of the German Confederation. But they did not persist when the matter became difficult. Slight changes in the wording (introduced by reactionaries) left the German states free to reject any progress made under the influence of French law during the time of the occupation. Similarly, a petition to Emperor Franz for the amelioration of the situation of the Austrian Jews (Nathan von Arnstein was among the petitioners) failed (in April 1815). The retreat to the Arnsteins and the Eskeles country seats immediately afterwards proved unfavourable, but at that time Fanny was sick and worn out by Napoleon’s return and the new war. She did, however, continue her hospitality and Rahel Levin-Varnhagen stayed with her at her house in Baden.

Later Life

After the final defeat of Napoleon Arnstein travelled in the Rhine valley and to Italy and then retired to her country seats, where she tried to recover from her hectic social life. She died of a lung ailment, probably tuberculosis, in her Braunhirschengrund house on June 8, 1818, and was buried in the Währing cemetery in Vienna ten days later. Herz Homberg (1749–1841), an old representative of the Austrian Jewish Enlightenment; European movement during the 1770sHaskalah, performed the funeral oration, and her widower donated an ark curtain to the prayer house in her memory. (It is noteworthy that Vienna, unlike other parts of the Habsburg empire, had no regular synagogue until 1825/26. The reference here is to the Dempfingerhof, which had been acquired by the city’s religious community and adapted for religious use in 1811/12.) The inscription on Fanny Arnstein’s gravestone correctly described her as “The mother of the poor, equally great as regards head and heart.”


Selected Primary Sources

Bemerkungen oder Briefe über Wien eines jungen Bayern auf einer Reise durch Deutschland an eine Dame von Stande. Leipzig: [c. 1800].

[Brentano, Sophie.] Meine Seele ist bey euch geblieben. Briefe Sophie Brentanos an Henriette von Arnstein, ed. by Karen Schenck zu Schweinsberg. Weinheim: 1985.

Gräffer, Franz. “Wieder eine Augarten-Vision.” In Kleine Wiener Memoiren: Historische Novellen, Genrescenen, [...] und Notizen [...]. zur Geschichte und Characteristik Wien’s und der Wiener [...]. Part 3, 247–252. Vienna: 1845.

Pichler, Caroline. Denkwürdigkeiten aus meinem Leben. 1769–1843. [...], ed. by Emil Karl Blümml. 2 vols., Munich: 1914 [1Vienna: 1844].

Reichardt, Johann Friedrich. Vertraute Briefe, geschrieben auf einer Reise nach Wien und den Oesterreichischen Staaten zu Ende des Jahres 1808 und zu Anfang 1809. Vol. 1, Amsterdam: 1810.

Staegemann, Friedrich August. [Correspondence with his wife Elizabeth (1814/15).] In Hedwig von Olfers geb. von Staegemann, ed. by Hedwig Abeken. Vol. 1: Elternhaus und Jugend. 1799-1815. Berlin: 1908.

Varnhagen von Ense, Karl August: Denkwürdigkeiten des eignen Lebens. Vol. 2 and 3, Leipzig: 21843.

[Varnhagen von Ense, Karl August.] “Fanny von Arnstein.” In Vermischte Schriften von K.A. Varnhagen von Ense, 3rd, augmented edition. Part 1, 328–335. Leipzig: 1875.

[Varnhagen von Ense, Rahel.] Rahel. Ein Buch des Andenkens für ihre Freunde [ed. by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense]. Berlin: 1834. Reprint: Rahel Varnhagen. Gesammelte Werke, ed. by Konrad Feilchenfeldt, Uwe Schweikert and Rahel E. Steiner. Vol. 1–2, Munich: 1983.

[Varnhagen von Ense, Rahel.] Briefwechsel zwischen Varnhagen und Rahel. Vol. 2, 4, and 5, Leipzig: 1874–1875. Reprint: Rahel Varnhagen. Gesammelte Werke, ed. by Konrad Feilchenfeldt, Uwe Schweikert and Rahel E. Steiner. Vol. 4.2, 5.2 and 6.1, Munich: 1983.


Secondary Sources

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Deutsch, Simon, ed. Jüdischer Plutarch; oder biographisches Lexicon der markantesten Männer und Frauen jüdischer Abkunft [...]. Vol. 2 (second alphabet), 10–18. Vienna: 1848.

Dick, Jutta, and Marina Sassenberg, eds. Jüdische Frauen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Lexikon zu Leben und Werk, 26–28. Reinbek near Hamburg: 1993.

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How to cite this page

Wilhelmy-Dollinger, Petra. "Fanny Baronin Von Arnstein." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 30, 2024) <>.