Johann Jakob Frey enjoyed the patronage and admiration of important royal collectors such as Louis I of Bavaria and Frédéric-Guillaume IV of Prussia, who commissioned and bought the landscapes he painted during his many travels.
After initial training with his father, the painter Samuel Frey, Frey continued his studies in Paris, Munich, Rome and Naples. He also travelled to Sicily and Spain before joining an archaeological expedition to Egypt led by Karl Richard Lepsius, the pioneering Egyptologist and archaeologist. By the time he finally settled down in Italy in 1840 he was established as a landscape painter. He devoted the rest of his life to painting Italian landscapes.