Fanny Baronin VonArnstein

1758 – 1818

by Petra Wilhelmy-Dollinger

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.

Born in Berlin on November 29, 1758, Vögelchen or Franziska (Fanny) was the eighth child of the banker Daniel Itzig (17231799) and his wife Mariane (Mirjam), née Wulff (17271788). 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 (17481838), the son of Adam Isaac Arnstein(er) (17151785) 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 (17651841). 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 (17801859), on her twenty-second birthday in 1780. On the same day the old Empress Maria Theresia died in Vienna. Emperor Joseph II (174117651790), 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).

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 (17651795). 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 (17761800; 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.17331817), who had become an influential patron of the arts. Friedrich Gentz (17641832) proved a false friend. He had moved from Berlin to Vienna in 1802, became a close adviser to Metternich, turned anti-Jewish and politically reactionary. Karl August Varnhagen von Ense’s (17851858) appreciation and praise of Arnstein was honest, though sometimes intermingled with a few needle-pricks. Among the guests were Horatio Lord Nelson (17581805) and his lover Emma Lady Hamilton (c.17651815), the composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt (17521814), Fanny’s niece Lea Mendelssohn (17771842) and her children, the Schopenhauer family, the playwright August von Kotzebue (17611819) and the novelist Caroline Pichler (17691843). Visiting salonnières from Berlin were Arnstein’s sister Sara Levy (17611854), Henriette Herz (17641847) and Rahel Levin-Varnhagen (17711833).

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 (17601836) married Nathan von Arnstein’s associate Bernhard von Eskeles (17531839), and in 1805 another sister, Rebecca Ephraim (17621846), also came to Vienna. Other women belonging to her circle (and keeping literary tea-tables themselves) were Bernhard von Eskeles’ sister Eleonore Flies[s] (17521812) and Fanny von Arnstein’s two nieces: the author Regina Frohberg (Rebecca Friedländer; 17831850) and her sister Marianne Saaling (17861868), both née Salomon; Mariane von Eybenberg, née Meyer (d. 1814) and Dorothea Schlegel (Brendel Mendelssohn, 17641839), the wife of the critic Friedrich Schlegel.

In 1802 Arnstein’s daughter married the banker Heinrich (Aaron) Pereira (17731835). 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.

From an otherwise enjoyable journey to Paris in 1801 Fanny had returned full of distrust for Bonaparte’s politics. During the Napoleonic Wars (18051815) 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 (17661835; 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 (17911864), 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 (17691852), Cardinal Ercole Marchese Consalvi (17571824) and Charles-Maurice, Duke of Talleyrand (17541838). Arnstein’s salon was a headquarter of the Prussian delegation: not only her nephew, the diplomat Jacob Salomo Bartholdy (17791825) and her old friend Varnhagen (with his wife Rahel) came, but also Karl August Prince Hardenberg (17501822), Wilhelm von Humboldt (17671835), Friedrich August Staegemann (17631840) 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.

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 (17491841), 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 1925/26. 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.”


Selection of Primary Sources

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

Circumstantial source. See pp. 67, 7276, 111114.

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

Valuable inside view of the Arnstein family.

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, 247252. Vienna: 1845.

Not too reliable in details, but correct in general terms. Cf. also Part 1, 248249.

Pichler, Caroline. Denkwürdigkeiten aus meinem Leben. 17691843. [...], ed. by Emil Karl Blümml. 2 vols., Munich: 1914 [1Vienna: 1844].

Good source for Arnstein and salon circles.

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.

For Arnstein’s salon see the fourteenth and seventeenth letter.

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.

Descriptions of the Arnstein circle by a Prussian diplomat.

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, 328335. 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. 12, Munich: 1983.

Important source. In August 1794, Rahel Levin (then in Breslau) was told “wonders“ about Arnstein’s salon by a visitor returning from Vienna (I, p. 84).

[Varnhagen von Ense, Rahel.] Briefwechsel zwischen Varnhagen und Rahel. Vol. 2, 4, and 5, Leipzig: 18741875. 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

Recommended for further reading: Arnstein’s biography by Hilde Spiel (19111990)
...see Spiel, below.

Bermann, Moriz. Oesterreichisches biographisches Lexikon. [....]. Vol. 1, 248, Vienna: 1851.

Biba, Otto. “Jüdische Familien, Komponisten und Musiker in der Wiener Musikszene in der ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts.” In quasi una fantasia. Juden und die Musikstadt Wien, ed. by Leon Botstein and Werner Hanak, 65-75. Exhibition catalog, Jewish Museum Vienna. Vienna: 2003.

Helpful account of Arnstein’s musical interests and merits concerning the founding of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna. The author points out that she was not actually a formal member (as has been often stated). With Arnstein’s portrait: a posthumous lithograph by Joseph Krienhuber (1830).

Deutsch, Simon, ed. Jüdischer Plutarch; oder biographisches Lexicon der markantesten Männer und Frauen jüdischer Abkunft [...].Vol. 2 (second alphabet), 1018. Vienna: 1848.

Dick, Jutta, and Marina Sassenberg, eds. Jüdische Frauen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Lexikon zu Leben und Werk, 2628. Reinbek near Hamburg: 1993.

With Arnstein’s portrait: a mezzotint by Vincenz Georg Kininger after Jean Urbain Guérin (1804).

Gerstinger, Heinz. Altwiener literarische Salons. Wiener Salonkultur vom Rokoko bis zur Neoromantik (17771907). Salzburg: 2002.

[Gräffer, Franz, and Johann Jakob Heinrich Czikann, eds.] Österreichische National-Enzyklopädie [...].Vol. 1, 124, Vienna: 1835.

Heimann-Jelinek, Felicitas. “Geschichte hinter Geschichten. Kultobjekte aus Wiener Bethäusern und Synagogen.” In Jahrbuch für Jüdische Geschichte, Kultur und Museumswesen 1 (1994/95): 147154.

Lowenstein, Steven M. “Jewish Upper Crust and the Berlin Jewish Enlightenment: The Family of Daniel Itzig.” In Profiles in Diversity. Jews in a Changing Europe, 17501817, ed. by Frances Malino and David Sorkin, 182201. Detroit: 1998.

Mittenzwei, Ingrid. Zwischen Gestern und Morgen. Wiens frühe Bourgeoisie an der Wende vom 18. zum 19. Jahrhundert. Vienna, Cologne, Weimar: 1998.

Remarkable study about 18th/19th century bourgeoisie in Vienna, good bibliography.

Remy [-Lazarus], Nahida Ruth. “Die Töchter Daniel Itzigs.” In Das jüdische Weib, introduction by Moritz Lazarus, 243256. Berlin: 31896 [11891].

The author shows how Arnstein gained the respect and friendship of Christian women of the high aristocracy.

Schiferer, Beatrix. “Fanny von Arnstein (17581818).” In Vorbilder. Kreative Frauen in Wien 1750-1950, 1022. Vienna: 1994.

With Arnstein’s anonymous portrait.

Spiel, Hilde. Fanny von Arnstein oder Die Emanzipation. Ein Frauenleben an der Zeitwende (17581818). Frankfurt/Main: 1962. English Translation: Fanny von Arnstein: A daughter of the Enlightenment, 17581818. Transl. by Christine Shuttleworth. Oxford: 1991.

Outstanding biography, numerous later editions. Valuable bibliography of primary sources and older secondary literature. With Arnstein’s graphic portrait by Joseph Fischer (1793) and an anonymous portrait.

Spiel, Hilde. “Fanny von Arnstein.” In Affairs of the Mind: The Salon in Europe and America from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. by Peter Quennell, 4754. Washington, D.C.: 1980.

Staudacher, Anna L. Jüdische Konvertiten in Wien 1782–1868. Part 1. Frankfurt/Main, Berlin: 2002, 260–261.

Wachstein, Bernhard. Die Inschriften des Alten Judenfriedhofs in Wien. Im Auftrage der Historischen Kommission der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinde in Wien bearbeitet. Part 2: 16961783. Vienna, Leipzig: 1917.

Important for Arnstein’s tombstone inscription and birthdate. Cf. pp. 462464.

Wurzbach, Constant von. Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [...]. Vol. 1, 6970. Vienna: 1856.

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"It is noteworthy that Vienna, unlike other parts of the Habsburg empire, had no regular synagogue until 1925/26."
The date should be 1825/26

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

How to cite this page

Wilhelmy-Dollinger, Petra. "Fanny Baronin Von Arnstein." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 9, 2021) <>.


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