Born at Pigna, in what is now Liguria, Fea studied law in Rome, receiving the degree of doctor of laws from the university of La Sapienza, but archaeology gradually attracted his attention, and with the view of obtaining better opportunities for his research in 1798 he took orders. For political reasons he was forced to take refuge in Florence; on his return to Rome in 1799 he was imprisoned as a Jacobin by the Neapolitans, who at that time were occupying Rome, but was shortly afterwards freed and appointed Commissario delle Antichità and librarian to Prince Chigi. At Rome in 1781 Fea discovered a statue of a discus thrower, the so-called "Discobolus", one of the known Roman copies of the famous Greek original statue in bronze created by Myron.
Fea revised and annotated an Italian translation of Johann Joachim Winckelmann's Geschichte der Kunst, and also annotated some of the works of Giovanni Ludovico Bianconi. Among his original writings he is best known for: Miscellanea filologica, critica, e antiquaria; and Descrizione di Roma Antica e Moderna.
He died in Rome in 1836.
- Ridley, R.T., 2000, The Pope's Archaeologist: The Life and Times of Carlo Fea, Quasar. ISBN 88-7140-177-8
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- *Fea, Carlo (1820). Nuova Descrizione di Roma Antica e Moderna e de suoi Contorni Volume 1. 1980. Torchi di Crispino Puccinelli nel Negozio Piale in Piazza dis Spagna N. IA. e da Givanni Scudellari Via Condotti N. 19 e 20, al prezzo di Paoli 18. pp. 289–290.