Although he often adopted nonconformist stances, Giuseppe Balsamo – better known as Count Alessandro di Cagliostro – relentlessly attempted to conform to the values of the ruling classes. A true media man, the Count of Cagliostro achieved fame in the late 18th century thanks to his alleged divination skills, alchemical abilities and Masonic militancy. His exploits inspired news reports, pamphlets, satires, portraits, caricatures, novels, and poems. The adventurer travelled tirelessly from one country to the next and became the prototype of the modern “star”, a celebrity fêted by the European public. The hero of this mighty saga was exceptional enough to arouse awe, but he also displayed a down-to-earth nature that lent him credibility. He did not soar high above society, but entered its folds by exercising charm, for the sole purpose of being accepted and having his prestige acknowledged. The author offers a sprawling depiction of this remarkable man, highlighting a selection of key moments of his life, marked by legal proceedings that attracted unprecedented attention from the media.
Pasquale Palmieri teaches Modern History at the Federico II University in Naples.