Scholarly life and work
Lavin was a student of Horst W. Janson at Washington University, St. Louis, where he graduated with a B.A. in 1949. In 1952, he received his first M.A. at New York University under Richard Krautheimer and in 1953 a second M.A. at Harvard University. In 1955, he completed his Ph.D. under Ernst Kitzinger. From 1959 to 1962, he taught art history at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY. In 1963, he was appointed associate professor and later professor at New York University. In 1973 he was appointed professor of historical studies at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, succeeding Erwin Panofsky, where he worked until his retirement in 2001.
Lavin mainly wrote on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, for instance, on Donatello, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Giambologna, Caravaggio and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but also on Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. His studies focused on the correlation between form and meaning in the visual arts.
- Bernini and the Crossing of St. Peter's (1968).
- Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts (1980).
- Gianlorenzo Bernini: New Aspects of his Art and Thought: A Commemorative Volume (1986).
- Past-Present: Essays on Historicism in Art from Donatello to Picasso (1993).
- Meaning in the Visual Arts: Views from the Outside: A Centennial Commemoration of Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) (1995).
- Santa Maria del Fiore: Il Duomo di Firenze e la Vergine Incinta (1999).
- Caravaggio e La Tour: La Luce Occulta di Dio (2000).
- (with Marilyn Aronberg Lavin), Images from the "Song of Songs" in the Art of Cimabue, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt (2002).
- Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini (2007–09).
- L'Arte della storia dell'arte (2008).