Annigoni was born in Milan. He studied at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence, taking classes in painting, sculpture and engraving. Basing his style on the Italian old masters he studied their techniques, learning the art of 'oil tempera' under the Russian painter, Nikolai Lokoff.
Initially Annigoni's success was limited to Italy where his sharply evocative landscapes were very popular. In 1947 along with Gregory Sciltian, the brothers Antonio and Xavier Bueno, and others, he signed the manifesto of the 'Modern Realist Painters', coming out in open opposition to abstract art. Alone among the signatories Annigoni remained true, both aesthetically and ethically to the doctrines of the manifesto.
His art was brought to the attention of the British public when, in March 1949, the Royal Academy accepted some of his works for the annual exhibition and the move from relative obscurity to instant recognition came in 1954 when he received a commission to paint the young Queen Elizabeth II. The commission from the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers brought instant fame. Crowds flocked to see the painting when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and a limited-edition print published by The Times was fully subscribed. Sir Alfred Munnings, former President of the Royal Academy, declared Annigoni to be 'the greatest painter of the age'. This painting was followed by a portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh and the present work, painted in 1957.
In typical style the portrait is painted in immense detail, with the Princess depicted amongst the roses evocative of her name. The fabric of her cloak is reminiscent of the religious frescoes he painted as a younger man, imbuing the portrait with a magical, ethereal quality.
Annigoni remained a prominent artistic personality until his death in Florence in 1988, his paintings a powerful evocation of the great Renaissance tradition.