Who Is Alessandro Cagliostro?

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Who is Alessandro Cagliostro? What did Alessandro Cagliostro do? Information on Count Alessandro Cagliostro biography and life story.

Alessandro Cagliostro; (1743-1795), the most renowned charlatan of the 18th century. His real name was Giuseppe Balsamo. He was born in Palermo, Sicily, on June 2, 1743, and grew up as a street urchin. Admitted to a monastery, he was expelled when, ordered to read aloud from a martyrology, he substituted names of well-known harlots for those of the martyrs. After his expulsion he visited Greece, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, and Rhodes, where he studied alchemy and the occult sciences.

Cagliostro returned to Italy and married Lorenza Feliciani, the beautiful daughter of a Calabrian glovemaker, in 1768. Aided by his wife, he played alternately the roles of alchemist, forger of documents, dispenser of love philters and elixirs of youth, prestidigitator, healer, medium, soothsayer, and procurer. Moving from town to town, the couple took the earnings they obtained from “changing” hemp to silk, pebbles to pearls, and powder to roses, and invested them in a splendid equipage. They acknowledged the plaudits of crowds in London, the Hague, Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Toulouse. They also visited centers in Germany, and even Russia. Despite a coarse and plain appearance, Cagliostro captured the imagination of the best minds of his time, including Goethe, Schiller, and Tieck.

In 1785, during a sojourn in Paris, Cagliostro became implicated in the scandalous Affair of the Diamond Necklace and was imprisoned in the Bastille. On his release, Cagliostro and his wife visited London, where they succeeded only temporarily in their fraudulent practices. Leaving England, the pair traveled again on the Continent. In 1789, Cagliostro was arrested in Rome and condemned to death by the Inquisition as an arch heretic and a Freemason; the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. He died in confinement in San Leone on Aug. 26, 1795.

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