Style and Seduction

Jewish Patrons, Architecture, and Design in Fin de Siècle Vienna

Elana Shapira

A recent surge of interest in Jewish patronage during the golden years of Vienna has led to the question, Would modernism in Vienna have developed in the same fashion had Jewish patrons not been involved? This book uniquely treats Jewish identification within Viennese modernism as a matter of Jews active fashioning of a new language to convey their aims of emancipation along with their claims of cultural authority. In this provocative reexamination of the roots of Viennese modernism, Elana Shapira analyzes the central role of Jewish businessmen, professionals, and writers in the evolution of the city’s architecture and design from the 1860s to the 1910s. According to Shapira, these patrons negotiated their relationship with their non-Jewish surroundings and clarified their position within Viennese society by inscribing Jewish elements into the buildings, interiors, furniture, and design objects that they financed, produced, and co-designed. In the first book to investigate the cultural contributions of the banker Eduard Todesco, the steel tycoon Karl Wittgenstein, the textile industrialist Fritz Waerndorfer, the author Peter Altenberg, the tailor Leopold Goldman, and many others, Shapira reconsiders theories identifying the crisis of Jewish assimilation as a primary creative stimulus for the Jewish contribution to Viennese modernism. Instead, she argues that creative tensions between Jews and non-Jews—patrons and designers who cooperated and arranged well-choreographed social encounters with one another—offer more convincing explanations for the formation of a new semantics of modern Viennese architecture and design than do theories based on assimilation. This thoroughly researched and richly illustrated book will interest scholars and students of Jewish studies, Vienna and Viennese culture, and modernism.

Paper: $40 | Cloth: $85 | E-book: $34.99
ISBN-13: 9781611689211
Pages: 336 | Size: 6.25 in. x 9.25 in.
Date Published: May 22, 2016


  • [Shapira] maps the possibility of thinking about Jewish agency in the arts while avoiding the temptation to essentialise Jewish identity, to homogenise Jewish attitudes or to represent “the Jew” as a total personality whose positions are governed entirely by the fact of their Jewishness. Instead, she demonstrates how patrons were thinking through their Jewishness at the same time as they were positioning themselves in terms of class, gender and sexual identity, and were doing so at a time when all of these were topoi of substantial dispute.

    The Art Newspaper
  • Authoritative. ... Shapira’s documentation in primary and secondary sources is exhaustive. ... Recommended.

  • What emerges from Shapira’s examples is a very usefully nuanced picture of the Jewish involvement in the advanced architecture and design of the period. She shows the importance of patronage, but also that commissions, purchases and financial support were only some of the ways in which Jewish involvement in this area was manifested.

  • Compelling and important. ... Working from a truly astounding range of primary and archival sources, she brings to life the protagonists of her story with intimacy and richness of detail. Rarely has the active role of Jewish patronage been explored in such depth.

    Ars Judaica
  • “Style and Seduction” is an engaging, creative and innovative study into the world of the Jewish bourgeoisie in Vienna in the fin de siècle. Shapira challenges a well-known essay by Ernst Gombrich on this theme, and evokes a much more colorful and provocative interpretation. The author unearths associations and interpretations on Jews and non-Jews, antisemitic overtones and visual designs that together bring alive the worlds of Vienna that entertained at the turn of the century many imaginative, hidden and evocative agendas, and personalities — Jews and non-Jews. Her book is bound to arouse attention and discussion.

    Richard I. Cohen
    academic director of Da’at Hamakom, Center for the Study of Cultures of Place in Modern Jewish Society, Israel Center of Research Excellence
  • Shapira's work allows us to see Vienna 1900 from a quite different perspective, and a very productive one: that of the individuals who provided the actual resources with which the modernist (and many historicist) icons of the city where built. It provides a much more sophisticated assessment and understanding of how prejudice and actual cultural difference combined to shape Vienna's modern culture, and hence our world.

    Steven Beller
    Patterns of Prejudice

About the Author

Elena Shapira

Elana Shapira is a cultural and design historian; She lectures at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and at the University of Vienna; She is a specialist in the study of Viennese modernism. Her research interests include Central European cultural networks and artistic avant-garde, Jews in the creative industries in Europe and in the US, women designers in the interwar period, and modern Jewish art and architecture. Shapira has organized important international symposiums and workshops on …

Table Of Contents