The name Giovanni di Francesco was virtually unknown in art historical literature until 1917, when a scholar discovered documents from 1458 and 1459 linking Giovanni to payments for a fresco lunette. This lunette, in the Loggia degli Innocenti in Florence, remains his only documented painting. Both the nephew and cousin of painters, Giovanni di Francesco may have worked in his uncle's workshop. He was also probably a pupil of Paolo Uccello. From Uccello, Giovanni di Francesco developed a fascination with perspective and a taste for linear definition and intense facial expressions.
In 1442 Giovanni di Francesco became a master in the Florentine guild. A few years later he worked for Masaccio's pupil Filippo Lippi, who owed him forty florins, a great deal of money at the time, which may have caused legal conflicts. By 1455, however, they were working together again. The art of other Florentine painters of his day influenced Giovanni di Francesco, particularly Andrea del Castagno's emotional, linear style and Domenico Veneziano's explorations of the effects on color of changes in light.