BornUnterwiesenbach, (Bavaria, Germany), 1865
Johann Krieger completed less than one-third of a planned lunar atlas that showed great promise before he died, his health ruined by his obsessive commitment to the mapping project. The son of a brewer, Krieger was little more than a boy when he started to observe the Moon with a small refractor from the sleepy mountain hamlet of Unterwiesenbach, where his scanty education ended at the age of 15. Six years later he traveled to Cologne to visit Hermann Klein , the foremost German selenographer and popularizer of astronomy of the era. Klein not only warmly encouraged Krieger to make selenography his life’s work, but assumed the role of his mentor, directing the young man to study mathematics, physics, photography, and the graphic arts.
Krieger’s ensuing academic career faltered because he lacked the mathematical aptitude required for the rigorous curriculum at the University of Munich. Undeterred, he spent his inheritance to establish a private observatory in the Munich suburb of Gern-Nymphenburg. Krieger equipped his observatory with a fine 270-mm refractor and announced his intention to produce an exhaustive lunar atlas. In the quest for a better astronomical climate, he would move his observatory to Trieste on the Adriatic coast several years later.
Klein provided Krieger with photographic prints made from the best lunar negatives taken at the Lick and Paris observatories. The photographs were enlarged to a scale of almost 12 ft to the Moon’s diameter. These grainy, low-contrast prints served as the substrates for Krieger’s drawings, ensuring an exceptional level of positional accuracy and proper proportion. At the eyepiece Krieger used different colored pencils on successive nights to sketch the finest details glimpsed in fleeting moments of steady seeing that were far beyond the capability of photography to record. These sketches served as the basis for magnificent shaded drawings executed with India ink, graphite pencil, charcoal, and paper stumps that were almost universally recognized as startlingly superior in their meticulous accuracy, aesthetic appeal, and legibility.
The frantic, monomaniacal pace at which Krieger labored would quickly take its toll, and in only a few short years his health would utterly collapse. He died early, a martyr to selenography. He had completed less than a third of the plates for his atlas, and these would only be published, in rough and fragmentary form, 10 years after his death.
Krieger’s work was collected and edited by his friend Rudolf König (1865–1927), an Austrian businessman who was a mathematician and amateur astronomer of rare ability. König published the two lavish volumes of Johann Nepomuk Kriegers Mond-Atlas, but only 18 of the 58 plates had been completed by Krieger, the remainder being little more than rough outlines.