The world lost one of its most gifted and prolific mapmakers when Heinrich Berann, the renowned Austrian panoramist, passed away December 4, 1999, at the age of 83. Intended as a tribute to Berann, this article discusses his work for the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), emphasizing particularly his artistic techniques and contributions to three-dimensional (3D) landscape visualization.

A rich partnership

Artists and the lands under NPS stewardship have had a long association. During the nineteenth century, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran heightened public awareness about the landscapes of the American West with paintings that portrayed nature in an exalted and romantic light. The interest generated by their art and other influences eventually led to land-protection legislation and then to formation of the NPS. A century later, the panoramas of Heinrich Berann harken back to the era of Bierstadt and Moran by depicting the park landscapes in an idealized manner.

After first contacting Heinrich Berann in 1972 to explore the possibility of creating park panoramas, the NPS began its formal association with him in 1987 with the publication of the North Cascades panorama. This was followed by panoramas of Yosemite (1989), Yellowstone (1991), and Denali (1994). During his 50-year career, Berann painted more than 500 panoramas. However, his NPS panoramas are noteworthy for their exceptional quality. Berann, the World’s foremost panoramic artist, was near the end of his career and at the height of his artistic prowess when he painted the world-class landscapes of these four U.S. National Parks. He retired in 1994 after painting Denali’s Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America—a fitting magnum opus to cap a brilliant career.

Panoramas and cartography

Panoramas are a unique variety of map that transcends the boundary between cartography and art. They are beautiful, enjoy widespread popularity with the public, and are excellent pictorial devices for visualizing landscapes—especially ski areas, for which the panorama has become the de facto cartographic standard. Despite this, the creation of panoramas has been eschewed by the mainstream cartographic community because of the highly specialized skills needed for their production and, to a lesser extent, concerns about their relaxed accuracy. Cartography’s lack of interest in panoramas is hardly surprising considering the discipline’s emphasis during the last several decades on the quantitative and theoretical aspects of map making. There simply has been a dearth of cartographers with the needed artistic skills and temperament to create panoramas. Thus, the business of panorama creation has been largely relegated to artists who have an affinity for landscapes, such as Berann. Ironically, the artists who create panoramas tend not to consider themselves cartographers—they prefer to be called panoramists instead—despite the fact that they graphically portray spatial relationships on the Earth’s surface. The number of active panoramists world-wide is rather small. Probably, most panoramists live in Austria, where, as of 1998, seven people painted panoramas on either a full or part-time basis (Vielkind, 1998).

Cartographers have not been entirely absent from panorama making, however. Hal Shelton, now retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, painted the elegant panorama “Colorado: Ski Country U.S.A.” and numerous ski-area maps in the 1960s. Other cartographers studied with Berann himself, including James Robb, University of Colorado at Boulder, and Michael Wood, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Wood painted the “Whisky Trail” and several other panoramas of the Scottish Highlands. In Switzerland, Arne Rohweder (Karto Atelier) and, in the U.S., Pete Powers (Terragraphics) are among the few trained cartographers who actively produce panoramas today.

The general schism between cartographers and panoramists—exceptional cartographer-panoramists notwithstanding—may be ending thanks to computers. Powerful microprocessors, abundant geo-data, and sophisticated graphical software programs now permit cartographers (and many others) to create 3D landscape visualizations that resemble panoramas. Moreover, interest in 3D mapping is growing rapidly and enjoying a renaissance, apparently because of the rapidly evolving discipline of multimedia cartography. Today’s cartographic researchers studying interactive spatial environments assume that 3D presentation is a superior method for visualizing many forms of geographic data, including landscapes. Because 3D landscapes are less abstract than their two dimensional (2D) counterparts, they are thought to be easier to visualize, especially by the growing numbers of people with limited map reading skills or the time needed to study maps.

As more multimedia cartographers rely on 3D map presentation, questions inevitably arise about optimizing the design of 3D landscapes. Careful examination of Heinrich Berann’s work answers or gives insights into some of these questions.


Berann’s lifestyle, ethos, and artistic training have roots in a former era. To appreciate fully Berann’s panoramas—especially amidst a digital revolution and in a new millennium—it behooves cartographers to know something about the man and his traditional qualifications for interpreting landscapes graphically.

A brief biography

Heinrich Caesar Berann was born in 1915 in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria. Living in proximity to inspiring alpine landscapes exerted a lasting influence on his later development as a panoramist. All of his panoramas, even of foreign areas, tend to depict mountains in a style reminiscent of the Alps. Berann came from a family of artisans, and his grandfather was an art teacher. In spite of this, Berann’s father initially objected to his son’s artistic aspirations. This forced Berann to learn painting through self study (Troyer, 1999). From 1930 to 1933 he attended design school in Innsbruck and worked as a graphic illustrator during the economic depression of the 1930s. After World War II army service, Berann continued his art training in Vienna. He studied sculpture with Gustinus Ambrosi and anatomical art with Dr. Wirtingen. He never studied cartography, however.

From 1952 until his death in 1999 he lived and worked in Lans, Austria, a small village near Innsbruck. (Figure 1) Berann was married for 32 years to his first wife, Ludmilla, who died in 1974. In 1991, Berann married his longtime friend, Mathilde, who died unexpectedly in 1993. After this devastating blow Berann lost all desire to continue working as a commercial panoramist, and his health declined. His retirement years were devoted to painting fine art and listening to music (Schutzler, 1999). Berann is survived by daughters Angela and Elisabeth.

Berann’s commercial career started with the production of non-panoramic tourist posters of the Tyrol and Grossglockner regions of Austria, and these exhibit the art-deco influences of the period. His first panorama, produced in 1934, commemorated the opening of a mountain pass road near Grossglockner and won first prize in a competition. Winning the prize awakened Berann to the possibility of becoming a career panoramist—despite the vow he made as a youth “never to paint mountains” (Troyer, 2000). In 1937 he painted a panorama showing a tourist railroad in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. During the next five decades Berann painted hundreds of panoramas, most depicting his native Alps, and he gradually improved his artistic style. His earliest panoramas were highly stylized compared to his later work, especially the distinctive treatment of clouds, which he perfected while on military duty in Norway and northern Finland during WWII (Troyer, 1999). Although Berann did not invent the panorama—bird’s eye views of cities and recreational areas have been common since the late eighteenth century—he has set the highest standard to emulate.

Fine art

As his career as a panoramist burgeoned, Berann also pursued his interest in fine art. His artistic expression often touches on religious themes and tends toward the baroque. Many of his pieces revel in the human form, especially female nudes, while other works are more abstract and splashed with vibrant color (see Hörmann, 1995, for examples). A deliberate symmetry exists between Berann’s passion for fine art and his pragmatic career as a panoramist, something he acknowledges by his choice of a personal emblem, which he calls “the balance” (Troyer, 1999). (Figure 1)

Balance emblem or not, Berann’s dual career was not an entirely neat and compartmentalized package. His prowess as a panoramist clearly benefitted from his passion and inborn artistic ability: similar skills are required for putting forms to paper, be they nudes or mountains. Cross fertilization occurred between his vocations. Berann’s fine art pieces became less impressionistic and more detailed later in his career because of the influence of cartography (Troyer, 2000). In 1963 Berann visited Nepal to prepare for painting the Everest panorama. There he came into contact with Hinduism, which had a profound and lasting influence on his art (Garfield, 1992), although he remained Roman Catholic in his religious beliefs. Conversely, the religious influence in Berann’s art is very evident in his distinctive depiction of the sky on panoramas. The arcing cloud formations on panoramas are a manifestation of Berann’s fascination with the “circle of life,” a theme that pervades his fine art (Troyer, 2000).

Berann’s dichotomous artistic output—commercial panoramas and high minded fine art—reflects the divisions within the modern art community as a whole. The study, “Most Wanted Paintings,” by the Russian emigré art team of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, helps put Berann’s work into a wider context. To date, they have conducted public opinion polls in 14 countries to learn about our likes and dislikes in paintings. Their polls purport to represent about one-third of the Earth’s population and all segments of society. Not surprisingly, the picture that emerges from this democratic sampling of humanity contradicts the tastes of the art establishment; abstract art, modernism, nudes, religious themes, and paintings containing messages were least popular. By contrast, there was an overwhelming cross-cultural preference for large-format, tranquil, realistic landscapes dominated by blue (Komar and Melamid, 1999). The world at large, it seems, is predisposed to like panoramas.
Selected career milestones
1934 Produces his first panorama, of Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak. Painted in sepia tones, it bears little resemblance to his more colorful later work.
1956 Paints a panorama of Cortina, Italy, for the Winter Olympic Games, the first of his many Olympic panoramas. Berann painted panoramas of his hometown, Innsbruck, Austria, for the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, for which he was awarded the Austrian Olympic Medal.
1963 Begins a profitable association with the National Geographic Society that yields two exquisitely detailed panoramas of the Mount Everest area.
1966 Completes his largest map ever, of the ocean floor, for the U.S. Navy and Columbia University in collaboration with Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp (Lawrence, 1999). Bathymetry is depicted in simulated 3D with cast shadows on a Mercator world map. He also paints ocean-floor maps for the National Geographic Society.
1967 Completes a panorama spanning the length of the Alps viewed from the north. It is compiled with the help of a Perspektomat, a Swiss produced mechanical device similar in design to a pantograph. Finding the Perspektomat troublesome to operate and less efficient than compiling by hand, Berann never uses it again. (Vielkind, 1998)
1973 The Austrian Ministry of Education and Art bestows on him the title of “Professor.”
1986 Painted a small-scale panorama of Germany requiring 3,000 hours to complete. It is followed by other small-scale panoramas of Europe (1989), North America (1991), and southern Africa (1994). Rollers were used to advance the paper to paint these individual panoramas, which are over two meters in length. Berann claims not to have looked at each completed piece until the end of the roll. (Troyer, 2000)
1987 A panorama of the North Cascades is his first for the U.S. National Park Service.
1990 The President of Austria presents Berann with the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art.
1994 Retires after completing the panorama of Denali National Park.

The term “panorama” was coined in 1792 by Robert Barker, who devised a series of six paintings of the London skyline, showing a 360-degree view from the roof of a tall building. The paintings were arranged on a curved surface surrounding the viewer to give the illusion of being immersed within the scene. Barker’s display was a success, and similar panoramas quickly became a popular novelty during the early-to-mid nineteenth century throughout Britain and France (Oetterman, 1998). Today, the Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania, is one of the last surviving traditional panoramas in the U.S. Created in 1884, it is a 360-foot-long circular oil-on-canvas painting depicting Pickett’s Charge, the decisive moment in the Battle of Gettysburg. Barker’s original concept for the panorama is also recognizable today in cyberspace. Apple Computer’s QuickTime VR and similar applications enable users to navigate cylindrical 360-degree photographs and computer-generated 3D scenes, which are displayed on a flat computer screen instead of an encircling curved surface.

A Berann panorama, consisting of a single flat image, does not fit the original concept of the panorama developed by Barker. However, over time, the definition of a panorama has broadened.
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, a panorama is:
“1. a) a picture or series of pictures of a landscape, historical event etc., presented on a continuous surface encircling the spectator; cyclorama 1. b) a picture unrolled before the spectator in such a way as to give the impression of a continuous view 2. an unlimited view in all directions 3. a comprehensive survey of a subject 4. a continuous series of scenes or events; constantly changing scene.”
F.J. Monkhouse’s A Dictionary of Geography defines the term as:
“An outline sketch of a piece of country as viewed from some prominent point, covering a considerable horizon distance, emphasizing foreground, middle ground, and background detail. It is an essential part of field sketching. Various geometrical methods can be used. A panorama can be drawn in the field (preferably) from a contour map.”
Although the above definitions describe Berann’s work, albeit in a limited manner, Berann’s panoramas are much more than simple field sketches. They treat the viewer to an “impression of continuous view” and impart a dynamic quality via atmospheric graphical effects that belie the static medium—paint on paper—upon which they are presented. Berann’s panoramas defy classification as completely one genre or another. Instead, a hybrid, they occupy the misty borderlands between photographs, fine art, cartography, and the real world observations of viewers—a fact that only adds to their allure. By describing his work as “exact like a map and visual like a photograph” and, “more colorful, clear, and three dimensional than satellite images” (Stern, 1987), Berann supported the analogy of the panorama as a hybrid.

Sometimes the multi-disciplinary heritage of panoramas creates confusion about their identity. When panoramas are viewed from very low elevations they become less map-like and more characteristic of landscape paintings. Several well known panoramas by Berann approach this nebulous threshold, including Denali and the Everest panoramas for the National Geographic Society. More problematic still, Berann’s panorama of “Reit im Winkl,” in the Bavarian Alps, clearly crosses into the realm of landscape painting. It depicts an otherwise typical panorama from a hillside vantage point that includes trees and pathways in the foreground (see Berann and Graefe, 1966, for example). Rather than exclude such low-elevation views from the panorama family, cartography should perhaps follow the example of remote sensing, which accepts images taken from all elevated platforms, whether on the Earth’s surface or in the sky.

Each Berann panorama is distinctive, but all share common characteristics. They are framed within a rectangular border, show terrain in perspective with simulated three dimensionality (2.5D), contain a horizon and sky, depict detailed surface features, and give uncommonly strong emphasis to artistic presentation and natural realism. When combined these characteristics yield a final product that is much more than the sum of its parts. Something truly magical happens. Readers feel drawn into the panorama as if they were flying high above the land. Alpine peaks project skyward, haze veils distant valleys, and storm clouds gather on the horizon, lending energy to the environment. The effect can be mesmerizing. And while a panorama often brings to the viewer intense visual pleasure, it also delivers a subtle yet more valuable gift. The preternatural topography in a panorama, artistically enhanced to minimize the disorder and distractions of nature, permits the reader to understand the land better.

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