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The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia has voluntarily returned a 16th-century manuscript to the government of Peru, following a federal investigation into the provenance of the object. The manuscript, which dates to 1599 and documents the formation of the first theatre troupe in the Americas, was initially purchased by museum founder Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach (1876-1952) in the 1920s during a visit to Peru.
Federal investigators began researching the background of the manuscript in 2017 after a request from the Peruvian government, eventually tying the Rosenbach’s pages to a larger bound volume of texts. The six pages held by the Rosenbach were found to have been illegally removed from this volume well in advance of their acquisition. Neither the museum nor the US Department of Justice have claimed that Rosenbach had any reason to believe the pages were unethically procured at the time he bought them.
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In a statement regarding the repatriation of the pages, a Rosenbach spokesperson said: “While there are uncertainties surrounding the circumstances and timing of the document’s removal, the Rosenbach is satisfied the document was removed from the bound volume and believes it is right and just the volume should be made whole again.”
The Rosenbach has a large collection of historical documents and ephemera from colonial-era North and South America, including devotional materials, newspapers, treaties, contemporaneous biographical texts, legal documents and more. The museum’s website describes Rosenbach as a “US businessman who was a known collector of Peruvian colonial treasures, including paintings, manuscripts, books and other artefacts”. Rosenbach’s intensely acquisitive behaviour earned him the nickname “The Terror of the Auction Room”.