He was half-brother of the painter Ventura Salimbeni, and the stepson of Arcangelo Salimbeni, another Sienese painter. His stepfather died when Francesco was young, and as a 16 year old went first to Bologna, then to Rome. There he apprenticed with Giovanni de' Vecchi during 1579-80, though like other Tuscan painters of his day, he was influenced in part by Federico Barocci from Urbino, and he was among the last painters who also reflected the influence of the Sienese School of painting. He was named a Cavalieri.
In Rome, he worked later with Salimbeni, Bartolomeo Passerotti, and Andrea Lilio. He was commissioned by Pope Clement VIII to painted an altarpiece for the St. Peter's, later transferred to mosaic, Simon Magus rebuked by St. Peter. He painted several other pictures for Roman churches; including St. Michael defeats rebel angels for the sacristy of S. Gregorio; a Pietà for Santa Maria in Vallicella; and the Assumption for San Lorenzo in Miranda.
Returning to Siena, where he ultimately died, he afterwards worked at Parma, Bologna, and again at Rome. At Siena, he painted a S. Raimondo walking on the Sea for the church of the Dominicans. Vanni painted a Baptism of Constantine (1586-7) for the church of San Agostino in Siena. He painted a Christ appearing to St. Catherine for the chapel of il Refugio at the Santuario Cateriniano of Siena, and a Baptism (1587) for the former church of San Giovannino e Gennaro. He painted an Immaculate Conception (1588) for the Montalcino Cathedral and an Annunciation (1589) for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Siena. He painted a "Crucifixion with Father Matteo Guerra" for San Giorgio. One of his pupils was Rutilio Manetti.
His sons, Michelangelo and Raffaello Vanni were also painters. The painter Francesco di Vanni was active in the 14th century.
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- Bryan, Michael (1889). In Walter Armstrong & Robert Edmund Graves. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L-Z). York St. #4, Covent Garden, London; Original from Fogg Library, Digitized May 18, 2007: George Bell and Sons. p. 632.
- Web gallery of art biography.
- Short biography.
- Domenico Sedini, Francesco Vanni, online catalogue Artgate by Fondazione Cariplo, 2010, CC BY-SA.