Martin Bodmer – the man

FundationMartin BodmerMartin Bodmer – the man

Bernard Breslauer described his first encounter with Martin Bodmer in the spring of 1938 in Zurich at ‘the great house with the Greek portico’:

‘I was led through several salons hung with splendid paintings. Tea was served in Martin Bodmer’s study. This was the first time I had met him and although I was intimidated, I took to him immediately. He had the face of an intellectual that lit up when he spoke. Otherwise he looked serious, even ascetic – an expression which would become more pronounced with age. He immediately told me about his collection. … At times you got the impression that it was not he who owned the collection, but the collection that owned him. ‘

Werner Weber had the same impression:

‘When Martin Bodmer was in his library, he was a different man. When he spoke, his eyes lit up and you got the impression that he was looking beyond you – that there were more people around him than there actually were. This did not prevent him from remaining the man he was, and whilst he neglected none of his current business, something more important seemed to distance him from it. It was as though time was standing still and he was caught up in a permanent dialogue with the great minds of his collection’ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 28 March 1971).

Odile Bongard was his personal secretary and assistant for 30 years. In a file she gave the members of the Board in 2000, she remembered him above all as ‘a solitary man who liked order and simplicity, but above all quality’. This is how she described an ordinary day in Martin Bodmer’s life at the library, when he was not on holiday with his family, on a business trip or seeing to other engagements:

Martin Bodmer, Cologny, 1959

‘Telephone call at around 10:00 or 10:30 a.m. He would turn up late in the morning to follow up on what was being done and hand out assignments. On his way through the reading room he would greet his staff and would sometimes stop at the filing cabinet to take notes. He then spent time in the collection on his own. On his way back he invariably said a few more words or made a few more comments. He went home around 12:30 and often came back in the afternoon between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m.’


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