Cagliostro, Alessandro, Conte di (älĕs-sänˈdrō kōnˈtā dē kälyōˈstrō) [key], 1743–95, Italian adventurer, magician, and alchemist, whose real name was Giuseppe Balsamo. After early misadventures in Italy he traveled in Greece, Arabia, Persia, and Egypt. While in Italy, he married Lorenza Feliciani, who became his assistant on his trips to the cities of Europe, where he posed as a physician, alchemist, mesmerist, necromancer, and Freemason. He claimed the secret of the philosopher's stone and of miraculous philters and potions. As the Grand Copt of the order of Egyptian Masonry he organized many lodges. His reputation was amazing, particularly at the court of French king Louis XVI. Implicated in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, he was imprisoned, acquitted, and banished. Cagliostro returned to Rome in 1789, where the Inquisition charged him with heresy and sorcery. Imprisoned for life, he died in a dungeon. Cagliostro has fascinated later generations as well as his contemporaries, and he appears often in literary works.
See biographies by F. King (1929), W. R. H. Trowbridge (new ed. 1961), F. R. Dumas (tr. 1968), R. Gervaso (tr. 1974), R. Silva (1975), T. Freller (1997), and I. McCalman (2003); H. C. Schnur, Mystic Rebels (1949).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.