Pellegrino Tibaldi was probably born in Valsolda (Lombardy) in 1527. Little is known about the training he received yet the earliest extant works reveal affinities with Bolognese painting. He did work in Bologna, in the Palazzo Paselli in 1549. Tibaldi's "Adoration of the Shepherds" in the Galleria Borghese in Rome (also 1549), however, looks at once more lively and more monumental. The impact Rome had on Tibaldi came via Michelangelo's circle.
Tibaldi received commissions for both profane and sacred frescoes before he went to Bologna in 1552 to decorate two rooms with scenes from the Homeric Odyssey in Cardinal Poggi's palace. Pellegrino Tibaldi designed both the architecture and the paintings for the interior of the Poggi family chapel at San Giacomo Maggiore. Before completing the Poggi chapel, Tibaldi left Bologna in 1558 for Loreto, where he was commissioned to design one of the chancel chapels.
After quite a long stay in Ancona, where Tibaldi worked as a fortification engineer and received commissions for paintings from several different patrons, he went to Ferrara in 1563, where he met Vasari. In 1564 Tibaldi went to Milan, where he worked mainly as an architect for Carlo Borromeo but also continued to accept commissions for paintings. In 1567 he was appointed master builder of the cathedral. Supremely competent and versatile on the huge construction site, he left a recognisable aesthetic imprint on the building.
In 1585 Tibaldi was summoned to Spain by Philip II and went there in 1587. As head architect at the Escorial, he was in charge of executing the extensive decoration of the lower cloister and the library. Tibaldi himself probably did both paintings and sculpture for the Escorial. The king rewarded him amply for his versatility and efficiency and also elevated Tibaldi to the peerage of Spain as the Marchese di Valsolda.
Pellegrino Tibaldi returned to Milan in 1596, where he died on 27 May of that year. As one of the most important artists of the latter half of the 16th century, Pellegrino Tibaldi partook of Michelangelo's legacy in painting but also continued in the tradition of Parmigianino and Niccolò dell'Abbate. No less versatile and prolific as an architect than he was as a painter, Tibaldi is appreciated for the stringent monumentality and classical harmony of his work in that field.