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Trachtenberg, Marvin

    Full Name: Trachtenberg, Marvin

    Other Names:

    • Marvin Lawrence Trachtenberg

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1939

    Place Born: Tulsa, OK, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Gothic (Medieval), Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, Renaissance, and sculpture (visual works)


    Scholar of Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture; Edith Kitzmiller Professor of the History of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Trachtenberg’s parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who “barely survived the [Russian] Revolution” (Trachtenberg). His father, William Trachtenberg (1905-1973) and mother, Leona Fox (Trachtenberg) (1907-2000), settled in Oklahoma in the 1930s “dustbowl” where William worked as an independed oil producer. The younger Trachtenberg entered Yale University intending a career in science. However, the lectures of the literature scholar Harold Bloom (b. 1930) convinced him to switch to the humanities. He graduated magna cum laude in 1961, marrying Heidi Feldmeier the same year. Trachtenberg attended the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1961-1962 securing his A.M., in 1963. He gravitated to medieval and Renaissance architectural history studying under Wolfgang Lotz and Richard Krautheimer. A Fulbright fellowship in Florence, Italy, 1964-1966 and Bernard Berenson fellowship allowed him to complete his Ph. D. at New York University, in 1967. Trachtenberg began teaching at his alma mater while working on his dissertation in 1964 rising to assistant professor. His 1968 dissertation, written under Krautheimer, was on the campanile (tower) of the cathedral at Florence. He was appointed associate professor in 1969. He collaborated with medievalist Otto von Simson on the fourth volume on medieval art for the new edtion of the Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, which appeared in 1972. The revision of his dissertation, published as Campanile of Florence Cathedral: ‘Giotto’s Tower, 1971, was awarded the Alice Davis Hitchcock Prize (Society of Architectural Historians) in 1974. Trachtenberg was a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Senior Fellowship 1974-1975 and Villa I Tatti Fellow, Harvard University, 1974-76. He authored one of the final volumes in the Art in Context series, the brainchild of Hugh Honour and John Fleming and the publisher Allen Lane (1902-1970), on the Statue of Liberty in 1976. The same year he was promoted to (full) professor at the Institute. In 1985 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Trachtenberg was selected in 1988 to contribute the ground-breaking series of literature reviews for the Art Bulletin‘s “State of the Discipline” series on recent architectural history. He was named Edith Kitzmiller Professor of the History of Fine Arts in 1990. He divorced in 1992, marrying the art historian and IFA student, Anne-Marie Sankovitch (1959-2005) in 1993. In 1996 his article “Why the Pazzi Chapel is not by Brunelleschi,” Trachtenberg reattributed the famous chapel from Brunelleschi to Michelozzo. A monograph on the architecture of Florence, Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern Florence, was published 1997, winning his second Hitchcock Prize. In 1999 he was awared the Charles Rufus Morey Prize by the College Art Association. He received a Graham Foundation Grant for 2000-2001. The same year he issued a revised edition of his advisor, Krautheimer, book on Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. Trachtenberg’s piece in the NewYork Times in 2003 endorsed Daniel Libeskind’s entry for the hotly debated Ground Zero site; shortly after which the architect won the commission. After the death of his second wife from cancer in 2005, he became engaged to the Barnard College historian Dorothy Ko (b. 1957). His students included Christine Smith, Anita Moskowitz, Lisa Reilly, Gary Radke, and Ena Giurescu. As a scholar Trachtenberg built a career on reinterpretation and rethinking the commonplaces of art history. His assertion that the “Gothic” was “medieval modernism” was frequently formulated in articles in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, RES, and Gesta. Fundamental studies of major trecento buildings, particularly the Campanile and Palazzo Vecchio remain the standard treatment of the field. His co-authored textbook (with Isabelle Hyman), on western architecture is still the mainstay survey text for the topic.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Campanile of Florence Cathedral. New York University,1968, published as The Campanile of Florence Cathedral: “Giotto’s Tower”. New York: New York University Press, 1971; and Hyman, Isabelle. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-modernism: the Western Tradition. London: Academy Editions, 1986; The Statue of Liberty. Art in Context series. London: Allen Lane, 1976; and Hyman, Isabelle. Architecture, from Prehistory to Post-modernism: the Western Tradition. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1986; “Some Observations on Recent Architectural History.” Art Bulletin 70 (June 1988): 208-41; “Archeology, Merriment, and Murder: the First Cortile of the Palazzo Vecchio and its Transformations in the Late Florentine Republic.” The Art Bulletin 71 (December 1989): 565-609; “What Brunelleschi Saw: Monument and Site at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 47 no. 1 (March 1988): 14-44; “Why the Pazzi Chapel is not by Brunelleschi.” Casabella (June 1996): 58-77; “Why the Pazzi Chapel is by Michelozzo.” Casabella (February 1997):, 56-75; Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern Florence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997;


    Trachtenberg, Marvin. The Statue of Liberty. Art in Context [series]. London: Allen Lane, 1976 [wrappers flap]; Goldberger Paul. “Challenge to the Origin of a Florentine Chapel: Asserting that a Famous Work of Brunelleschi was Built by a Follower.” New York Times January 1, 1997, p. 30; personal correspondence with the subject, August, 2009.


    "Trachtenberg, Marvin." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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