Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Lambert, Johann Heinrich

  • Rolf G. Kuehni
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_301


Lambert was born on August 26, 1728 in the city of Mulhouse, then an enclave of Switzerland (now part of France). He was largely self-educated, going to school only until age 12. By age 17 he assumed the job of secretary to a newspaper publisher in nearby Basel, Switzerland. He also began to work as a private tutor. At age 20 he became tutor to three boys in the family of Count Peter von Salis in Chur, Switzerland, a position he held for 10 years. There he had access to the count’s large library and was able to travel widely in Europe with his charges. In 1755 he began to publish scientific articles on a number of subjects. In 1756 he traveled with his pupils to Göttingen in Germany where he met Tobias Mayer and was elected a member of the Königliche Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften (Royal Society for the Sciences). In 1759 he published his work on light measurement, Photometria [1], introducing his mathematical formula for the law of absorption of light (Lambert’s law), described nonmathematically a few years earlier by Pierre Bouguer. In 1764 he followed an invitation by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler to come to Berlin where, after some initial difficulties, Frederic II appointed him to a position in the Königlich-Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences). Lambert established an important position as mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and philosopher. He also had considerable interest in the art of painting. Among many other achievements, Lambert was the first to mathematically prove the irrationality of the number π. He died on September 25, 1777 in Berlin, Germany [2].

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

In 1758 Tobias Mayer presented his public lecture on a three-dimensional color order system, of which a report was published in Göttingische Anzeigen für gelehrte Sachen (Göttingen reports on learned matters), read by Lambert. In 1768 Lambert published an article Mémoire sur la partie photométrique de l’art du peintre (Dissertation on the photometric component of the art of the painter) [3] in which he discussed the effect of light on the appearance of colored materials. Soon after and as a result of Mayer’s premature death, he began work on an implementation of Mayer’s conceptual double pyramidal system, with assistance of the Prussian court painter Benjamin Calau (1724–1785). The result was published in 1772 as Beschreibung einer mit Calauischem Wachse ausgeführten Farbenpyramide (Description of a color pyramid painted with Calau’s wax) [4] containing a hand-colored abbreviated version of the conceptual color pyramid (Fig. 1) [3]. Lambert and Calau had to solve a number of practical issues, for example, they determined the relative strength of the pigments they used. When mixing the three primary paint samples, they obtained near-black colors. As a result, Lambert saw no need for the lower half of Mayer’s double pyramid. The Lambert-Calau pyramid is the first three-dimensional illustrated representation of a systematically developed color solid.
Lambert, Johann Heinrich, Fig. 1

Lambert’s illustration of his triangular color pyramid, 1772


  1. 1.
    Lambert, J.H.: Photometria, sive de Mensura et Gradibus Luminis, Colorum et Umbrae. Klett, Augsburg (1760)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kraus, A.: Lambert, Johann Heinrich. In: Neue Deutsche Biographie, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot GmbH, vol. 13, pp. 437–439. (1982)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lambert, J.H.: Mémoire sur la partie photométrique de l’art du peintre. Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences de Berlin XXIV, 313–334 (1768)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Lambert, J. H.: Beschreibung einer mit Calauischem Wachse ausgeführten Farbenpyramide. Haude und Spener, Berlin (1772). English translation available at www.iscc.org

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CharlotteUSA