Because of his many signed, dated, and inscribed works, more is known about Francesco Xanto Avelli than about any other maiolica painter. He appears to have been a learned and multitalented man. In addition to his maiolica painting, Xanto wrote a series of sonnets honoring the Duke of Urbino. For his istoriato wares and their inscriptions, he used scenes from classical and contemporary literature, which he often altered to suit his compositions; he also depicted contemporary events, such as the 1527 Sack of Rome.
Born in Rovigo in the late 1480s, Xanto moved to Urbino by 1530, the year he began to write in Urbino on his pieces. A trade dispute may have convinced the artist to start signing his plates with his full name. According to a surviving legal document, Xanto tried to improve his position in the workshop by joining together with other employees to demand higher wages; in response, a group of workshop heads agreed to resist the employees' demands and simply not hire them without the consent of the other directors. Xanto may have been attempting to gain more control over his products by signing his plates.