He was born in Pesaro to a wealthy Jewish family. He began his artistic training in Florence, and in 1844 was admitted to the Accademia di Belle Arti, where he studied under Giuseppe Bezzuoli. He became friends with Serafino De Tivoli, and joined him in painting landscapes en plein air. In 1848 he fought as a Tuscan volunteer for Garibaldi in the Risorgimento. During the 1850s he became acquainted with the artists who frequented the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence, who would soon be known as the Macchiaioli.
D'Ancona achieved success as a portrait painter, and few of his landscape paintings can be traced today. His Woman at the Races (ca. 1873) reveals the influence of Japonisme he had absorbed while living in Paris between 1867 and 1874. Suffering from the effects of syphilis, D'Ancona's health disintegrated in the mid-1870s, and he ceased painting in 1878. He died in Florence on January 9, 1884.
- Steingräber, E., & Matteucci, G. 1984, p. 69.
- Broude, N. 1987, p. 111.
- Mann et al. 1989, p. 143.
- Broude, Norma (1987). The Macchiaioli: Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03547-0
- Mann, Vivian B., Mazal Holocaust Collection., & Jewish Museum (New York, N.Y.). (1989). Gardens and Ghettos: The Art of Jewish Life in Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520068246
- Steingräber, E., & Matteucci, G. (1984). The Macchiaioli: Tuscan Painters of the Sunlight : March 14-April 20, 1984. New York: Stair Sainty Matthiesen in association with Matthiesen, London. OCLC 70337478
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- Panconi, T., Gavioli, V., & Marini, F. (2001). Vito D'Ancona: La pittura storica. Montecatini (Pistoia): MediArte. OCLC 49805450