Architectural historian of Bernini and the late antique era; New York University and Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton scholar. Lavin studied under Horst Woldemar Janson at Washington University, St. Louis, graduating with a B.A., 1949. His graduate teaching assistant for his first art-history course was Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, whom he later married. He continued graduate work at Cambridge University, 1948-49 and then New York University, where he received his M.A. in 1952 under Richard Krautheimer. That same year he married Aronberg, two years his senior. Lavin was awarded a second M. A. at Harvard University in 1953; his Ph.D., followed in 1955, written under Ernst Kitzinger, for whom he was one of that expatriate's first American Ph. D., students. Lavin served in the United States Army from 1955-1957. He was a Matthews Lecturer for Columbia University in 1957 and a senior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks between 1957 and 1959. Lavin was awarded the A. Kingsley Porter Prize in 1959 (the first of three times, written for an outstanding article in the Art Bulletin). He lectured in art history at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, from 1959 until 1962 and was Fulbright senior scholar from 1961-1963. In 1963 he was appointed associate professor (and later professor) at Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. From 1965 to 1966 he was a senior fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. Lavin's monograph, Bernini and the Crossing of St. Peter's, the major monograph on Bernini's contribution to St. Peter's Cathedral, Rome, was published in 1968. He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for the 1968-1969 year. In 1973 he was named professor of historical studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, N. J. In 1975 Lavin was Franklin Jasper Walls Lecturer at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. He served on the board of directors of the College Art Association from 1976-1980. His Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts, 1981, using the Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, as the paradigm, outlined Bernini's use of theatrics to coordinate architecture, painting, sculpture. He delivered the the Slade Lectures at Oxford University in 1985. In 1993 Lavin hosted a centennial birth symposium on the work of Erwin Panofsky at the Institute for Advance Study, where Panofsky had also been a member. That year, too, his collected essays, Past-Present: Essays on Historicism in Art from Donatello to Picasso, were published. Lavin made headlines in 1996 when he authenticated a marble bust Pope Gregory XV as a lost work of Bernini. In 2001 he was named emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study. In 2004, Lavin presented the 53rd A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, "More Than Meets the Eye," at the National Gallery of Art, Washgington, D. C. Lavin's work is wide-ranging, from Late Antique architecture to North African floor mosaics, from the renaissance (Donatello, Michelangelo, Pontormo, and Giovanni Bologna) to baroque (Caravaggio and Bernini). He has also written essays on Picasso and Jackson Pollock. Lavin's approach to architecture is essentially iconographic, an interpretation of the symbolic details of a structure to create a meaning, similar to Erwin Panofsky whose essays he edited in 1995. Lavin's work was greatly admired in his time. The great baroque scholar Anthony Blunt wrote that Lavin's Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts supplied "a new and deeper understanding of the artist's ideas and methods." Michael Jaffé and Charles Hope also praised his scholarship.
[bibliography to 1989:] "Bibliography of the Works of Irving Lavin, 1955-1989." IL 60: Essays Honoring Irving Lavin on His Sixtieth Birthday. New York: Italica Press,1990, pp. xiii-xviii; [dissertation:] The Bozzetti of Gianlorenzo Bernini. Harvard, 1955; [collected essays] Past-Present: Essays on Historicism in Art from Donatello to Picasso. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993; "The House of the Lord: Aspects of the Role of Palace Triclinia in the Architecture of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages." Art Bulletin 44 (1962): 1-28; Bernini and the Crossing of St. Peter's. New York University Press, 1968; Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press , 1980; and Gordon, Pamela. Drawings by Gianlorenzo Bernini: From the Museum der Bildenden, Kunste Leipzig, German Democratic Republic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1981; Bernin et l'Art de la Satire Social. Paris: Presses universitaires de Paris, 1987; edited, and Plummer, John. Studies in Late Medieval and Renaissance Painting in Honor of Millard Meiss. 2 vols. New York: New York University Press, 1978; Gianlorenzo Bernini: New Aspects of his Art and Thought: A Commemorative Volume. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986; and Tronzo, William, eds. Studies on Art and Archeology in Honor of Ernst Kitzinger on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1987; Meaning in the Visual Arts: Views from the Outside: A Centennial Commemoration of Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) (symposium). Princeton, NJ: Institute for Advanced Study, 1995; edited. Panofsky, Erwin. Three Essays on Style. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996; Bernini e il Salvatore: la "buona morte" nella Roma del Seicento. Rome: Donzelli, 1998; Marner, Eugene, director. Art of the Western World, Program V, "Realms of Light, The Baroque." [videorecording]. Intellimation (Santa Barbara, CA)/WNET (New York, NY), 1989; Santa Maria del Fiore: il Duomo di Firenze e la Vergine incinta. Rome: Donzelli, 1999.
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 70; Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. "Preface." IL 60: Essays Honoring Irving Lavin on His Sixtieth Birthday. New York: Italica Press,1990, pp. ix-xii; Institute for Advanced Study, Faculty and Emeriti, http://www.ias.edu/About/faculty/lavin.php.