Ten years after the sudden death of P. Gerhard Ruf (Kaiserslautern 1927 – Assisi 2008), Conventual Franciscan Friar of the Province of Germany, the Photographic Archives of the Sacred Convent honors and remembers him with gratitude through this photographic exhibition.Fr. Gerhard was in fact the founder of the Archives, it was his “creature” tenaciously desired and built piece by piece through the years, with passion and perseverance.
During a period when visual documentation was considered less necessary than today, he conducted various photographic campaigns of the iconographic patrimony of the Basilica, and collected many images of other Franciscan places and artistic objects, ensuring photographic coverage of the events held in the sanctuary complex. Thanks to his activity as a photographer – he provided photos through the years to many scholars, which were always appreciated for their high quality – he found financing for the acquisition of furnishings, tools, and photographic materials, such as the innumerable negatives and analogue printsthat are still preserved.
With the rise of digital formats - while remaining fundamentally tied for training and sensitivity to analogue photos- he encouraged the development of a new section of the Archives, assisted by his colleague and friend, Stefan Diller, a photographer from Würzburg. Though no longer a young man, he was open without reserve to the computer revolution as applied to photography, appreciating in a special way the possibilities it offered to use new instruments to catalog images. But reflecting on the character to give this exhibition, we realized that as much as the passion for photography was an “inseparable” part of the person of Fr. Ruf – always with his camera and attached shoulder strap! – it would clearly not exhaust the dimensions of his human and Franciscan experience, and maybe could not even be taken as its characteristic element.
Gerhard was in fact above all “the friar of the German pilgrims”. Having entered the novitiate in 1947 – after participating in the Second World War and being imprisoned for six months in Russia – and being ordained a priest in 1953, after several years of pastoral ministry in Germany, he arrived in Assisi in 1959 to welcome German-speaking pilgrims visiting the Basilica, and for the next 50 years the Sacred Convent was his home. It would be difficult to guess how many pilgrims he welcomed – always with a smile and usually with a joke – into the piazza of the basilica to initiate their guided visit of the shrine. He began this service with a little trepidation, but eventually, with the passage of time, he became passionate about it. The desire to carry out his work duly prepared led him to deepen through self-study his knowledge of the story of art and the masterpieces in the basilica in a special way, a study lasting decades that led him to publish several valuable works, both by himself and in collaboration with others.
This service of hospitality was flanked for about thirty years – from 1969 to 1999 – by his service to the German language community of Florence. Every Saturday evening the “commuter” would drive the 200 kilometers from Assisi to Florence, in a white Golf made available by the German Episcopal Conference, in any weather until he was 72 years old. With the kidnapping in July 1980 in Tuscany of three young people, Sabine and Susanne Kronzucker and their cousin Marin Wachtler – an episode depicted in one of the panels – Fr. Gerhard considered that it would be no more nor less that his precise duty as “pastor of Germans in Tuscany” to be near to the family, and even to play the dangerous and delicate role of mediator between the family and the kidnappers, a gesture for which he was recognized by the German government. Another aspect that the exposition notes is his relationship of collaboration and help to art history researchers, who found in him a competent and sensitive interlocutor, able to understand their needs and to enter into fruitful discussion. Speaking to this aspect is Prof. Joachim Poeschke, author of various publications on the frescoes of the basilica, who deserves our thanks in a special way for his availability.
Regarding the selection of photographs for this exhibition, from a collection extremely vast and varied, we chose to value those that best display the character of Fr. Gerhard as the “internal” photographer of the community of the Sacred Convent. The ability to enter places less well-known or areas completely off-limits to outside visitors allowed him to document corners of the convent that today, after structural modifications, have a completely different aspect, or to entrust to history a snapshot of activities spanning many centuries but now disappeared forever, for example of the bell ringers who in the past used to ring the monumental bells of the basilica by hand. Then again, his familiarity with the basilica, developed day by day over time, refined in him the capacity to isolate and value its particular details, to grasp the nuances that only an unusual angle or quality of light patiently sought and anticipated could render.
We hope you all enjoy the exhibit!
Fra Carlo Bottero - Stefan Diller
Fra Thomas Freidel - Giorgia Menghinella