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Coffin, David Robbins

    Image Credit: Princeton

    Full Name: Coffin, David Robbins

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1918

    Date Died: 2003

    Place Born: New York, NY, USA

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Renaissance, and sculpture (visual works)


    Renaissance architectural and garden historian; Princeton professor 1949-1988. Coffin was born to H. Errol Coffin and Lois Robbins (Coffin). His father was a practicing architect. The younger Coffin graduated from Princeton University in 1940 with an A. B. He began graduate work at Yale University the same year, but with the outbreak of World War II, Coffin joined the United States Army in 1942. At discharge in 1945, he returned to graduate school, this time Princeton, and gained an M.F.A. in 1947. He married Nancy M. Nesbit the same year. Coffin joined the University of Michigan in 1947, teaching for two years. He returned to Princeton as a lecturer in art and archaeology in 1949. He received a Fulbright fellowship to Italy for the 1951-1952 year to complete his dissertation research. His Ph.D., was granted from Princeton in 1954 with a dissertation on Pirro Ligorio and the Villa d’Este. The same year he was appointed an assistant professor at Princeton. He rose quickly through the ranks at his alma mater, making associate professor in 1956. He was appointed full professor in 1960. His book, The Villa d’Este at Tivoli, a portion of his dissertation research, appeared in 1961. He chaired the art and archaeology department between 1964 and 1970. During his time, he orchestrated the renovation of the Marquand Library of Art and Architecture. In 1970 he was named Howard Crosby Butler Memorial Professor of the History of Architecture. The Villa in the Life of Renaissance Rome was published in 1979. Coffin retired professor emeritus in 1988. He wrote The English Garden: Meditation and Memorial in 1994. In retirement, he spent the 1995-1996 year as Kress Professor at the CASVA National Gallery of Art from 1995 to 1996. A book was on Princeton University’s Graduate College, published in 2000. He suffered a heart attack in 2003. His final book, a biography of Pirro Ligorio, the subject of his dissertation, appeared posthumously.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Pirro Ligorio and the Villa d’Este. Ph.D., Princeton, 1954; The Villa d’Este at Tivoli. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960; The Villa in the Life of Renaissance Rome. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979; “Pirro Ligorio on the Nobility of the Arts.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 27 (1964): 191-210; “Pope Marcellus II and Architecture.” Architectura 9 no. 1 (1979): 11-29.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 51, mentioned; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 433; Raub, Cymbre. “An Interview with David Coffin.” Princeton Journal [individual issued titled:] Landscape 2 (1985): 221-230; [obituaries:] Turner, A. Richard. “David R. Coffin (1918-2003).” Society of Architectural Historians Newsletter 48 no. 1 (2004): 13,19-20; Benes, Mirka. “A Tribute to Two Historians of Landscape Architecture: David R. Coffin (1918-2003) and Elisabeth B. MacDougall (1925-2003).” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 63 no. 2 (June 2004): 248-54


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Coffin, David Robbins." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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