The Bodmer Collection also includes works of art. The (incomplete) inventory lists 117 objets d’art dating back to prehistoric times, ancient Egypt, the ancient Near East, Classical and Hellenistic Greece, Rome, medieval and modern Europe, as well as ancient works of art from the Americas, Africa, Oceania and the Far East. There are also collections of drawings, fossils and stones, and an important collection of 148 coins dating from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages. At one point, the Foundation even housed a collection of butterflies, which was later donated to the Geneva Museum of Natural History.
There are several reasons why Martin Bodmer included works of art in his collection:
First, written texts (proof of civilization) used a variety of media: cylinder seals, statues, stelae… Egyptian ostracons (limestone fragments), for example, were used to inscribe hieroglyphic texts. Ancient coins also corresponded to this criterion.
Second, he focussed on the legacy of civilizations without writing: Mexico, Peru, Africa and Oceania. The items displayed illustrate the period of the great explorers from Alexander to Magellan.
He wanted to place the masterpieces in their context, according to a series of intricate connections: the Books of the Dead were displayed together with items used during Egyptian funeral rites; Greek amphorae portrayed scenes from Homer and mythology; and the busts of Homer, Alexander and Caesar represented historic and literary figures. A mosaic engraved with the names Parthenopaeus and Metiochos was proof of the existence of a lost Greek legend and helped fill the gaps in literary history.
Martin Bodmer considered the drawings in the Collection as a written expression, in the same way as letters, numbers and musical scores. By portraying biblical, mythological and other well-known literary themes and characters, he saw them as connected to world literature. The same was true of the Belgian tapestries and Japanese kakemonos.
Finally, Martin Bodmer’s ambition was to span the spectrum of human creativity from the origins of the universe to the advent of humankind – what Michel Serres called the ‘Grand Récit’.