Friday, March 29, 2019

Happy Birthday Max Fleischer (1841-1905): Synagogue Architect of the Hapsburg Empire

 Max Fleischer, architect (1841-1905).
Vienna, Austria. Neudeggergasse Synagogue watercolor. Max Fleischer architect. Illustration  from: Das Osterreichische Judische Museum pl. 19.
Gliwice, Poland. Design for funerary building and cemetery. Max Fleischer, architect. Watercolor presentation perspective, 1902. From the collection of the Jewish Museum Vienna.
Happy Birthday Max Fleischer (1841-1905): Synagogue Architect of the Hapsburg Empire
by Samuel D. Gruber

Today is the birthday of prolific Viennese synagogue architect Max Fleischer who was a master of historic styles and helped re-integrate Gothic design into Jewish religious and institutional architecture in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was highly successful in his lifetime as a professional and as a community leader. He was a highly trained, experienced, and well organized architect. He was also a  practicing Jew. Thus, he  was an ideal candidate to take on many official Jewish community projects in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Fleischer was artistically cautious and for the most part a believer in the architectural - and cultural - status quo. His works were prominent and functional and innovative only in their inherent conservatism (that it is, he rejected the Moorish style); not in their overall plans nor in the intricacies of their designs.

Few of Fleischer’s Jewish commissions survive. The former synagogue of Břeclav, Czech Republic (1888) may have been rebuilt by Fleischer in 1888. It was adapted in 1992 into a municipal museum and art gallery. His funerary building at the cemetery in Gleiwitz (now Gliwice, Poland), has recently been restored. It's Romanesque style is not typical of Fleischer's other synagogue designs.

Břeclav, Czech Republic. Former synagogue. Built in 1868, it was rebuilt in 1888, possibly by Max Fleischer. It was adapted in 1992 into a municipal museum and art gallery, and then restored and reopened in 2000. Photo: Wikimedia.
Fleischer is mostly left out of histories of synagogue architecture in part because of his embrace of German Gothic design, but also because his buildings have been destroyed and their grandeur is hard to imagine from line drawings and murky photos. A few presentation watercolors suggest the appeal of his style. Now, with the restoration of the Gliwice Funerary Building, there is a display about Fleischer and also the publication in 2018 of a small book (in Polish) about the architect and his work (Max Fleischer i jego dzieło. Historia żydowskiego cmentarza i domu przedpogrzebowego w Gliwicach, ISBN 978-83-89856-97-5).

The Gliwice funerary building, opened on November 15, 1903, was one of Fleischer last major works. It consists of three parts: a central prayer hall, which led directly into the cemetery, the mortuary, where the bodies were prepared for burial; and an apartment for the cemetery custodians.  During World War II the building was used as a military warehouse and thus survived. After the war it was returned to the tiny Jewish community of Gliwice, but over time the building fell into ruin. In 2003 It was listed as a national monument, and 2007 the Jewish Community gave the building to the City of Gliwice which in 2012 began to restore the building and to create the Upper Silesian Jews House of Remembrance, a branch for the Museum of Gliwice.

Gliwice, Poland. Funerary building after restoration. Max Fleischer, architect, 1901-03. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Gliwice, Poland. Funerary building after restoration. Max Fleischer, architect, 1901-03. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Fleischer was born on March 29, 1841 in Prossnitz , Moravia, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now Prostějov in the Czech Republic. He studied at the Technical University of Vienna (1859-63) and at the Academy of Fine Arts (1863-1866). In 1868 he was hired by architect Friedrich von Schmidt, the master builder of St. Stephen’s church and of the neo-Gothic Vienna City Hall on the Ringstrasse. Fleischer worked as an associate of von Schmidt  for twenty years, during which time he learned about the organization of big public works and became expert in the Gothic style, both lessons that were useful later in many of his big synagogue projects. For his work on the City Hall is was recognized by the Emperor, and a portrait bust was included on the building entrance. Already while working with Schmidt he was recognized by the Jewish community and took on several synagogue commissions.

 Max Fleischer portrait on Vienna City Hall. Photo: Wikimedia.
Fleischer became an independent architect in 1887, and soon began to design synagogues in Vienna, eventually completing the Schmalzhofgasse Synagogue (1883-84), Muellnergasse Synagogue (1889), and the Neudeggergasse Synagogue (1903). He was also a frequent lecturer on architecture and wrote articles about the design of synagogues.

Vienna, Austria. Synagogue at Schmalzhofgasse 3. Max Fleischer, architect, 1883-84. Photo: from Genee, Syn in Osterreich, fig. 62.
Vienna, Austria. Neudeggergasse Synagogue in 1935. Max Fleischer, architect, 1883-84. Photo: from Genee, Syn in Osterreich, fig. 66.
He designed synagogues in Budweis (1888) and Pilgram (now České Budějovice and Pelhřimov in the Czech Republic) in the neo-Gothic in style, which Fleischer believed was more appropriate to German cultural traditions than the still-popular Moorish style. But like most historicist architects of his time, he was eclectic. He also designed synagogues in others styles in Lundenburg (now Břeclav in the Czech Republic), Krems an der Donau and Nikolsburg (now Mikulov in the Czech Republic). All but the synagogue of Břeclav have been destroyed, many on Kristallnacht, on November. 9-10, 1938.

České Budějovice, Czech Republic (formerly Budweis). Synagogue interior, watercolor by architect Max Fleischer. Image from Das Osterreichische Judische Museum pl. 18.
České Budějovice, Czech Republic (formerly Budweis). Synagogue. Max Fleischer, architect (1868?).
České Budějovice, Czech Republic (formerly Budweis). Synagogue. Max Fleischer, architect (1868?). The Germans blew up the synagogue on June 5, 1942.
Fleischer presented the original design for the Great Synagogue of Pilsen (Plzen, Czech Republic), for which he proposed a Gothic design with twin 65-meter towers and large buttresses. The ground plan was established, and the cornerstone laid in 1888, but work stopped when city councilors rejected the plan fearing the new large building would compete with the nearby St. Bartholomew Cathedral.  In 1891 a revised and smaller design was prepared by Emmanuel Klotz.

Fleischer was an active member of the Jewish community of Vienna and he also designed many of the funerary monuments in the Jewish section of Vienna’s Central Cemetery including those for the Guttmann Brothers, who were wealthy coal merchants, and chairmen of the Jewish community; and for the doctor and politician Adolf Fischhof; Hazzan Salomon Sulzer; banker Eduard Wiener von Welten; and many others  Fleischer is buried in the same cemetery. His grave is marked by a brick Gothic structure more modest than many he designed for his rich clients.

He also designed villas, housing buildings and department stores.

Fleischer died on December 8, 1905 at  age 64. In addition to his portrait on City Hall, a commemorative plaque at 64 Neustiftgasse in the 7th district of Vienna was unveiled in Fleischer’s memory on November 20, 2008.


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