He was born in Lucca, the son of Tommaso Paolini and Ginevra Raffaelli. In 1619, Paolini‘s father sent him to study under Angelo Caroselli in Rome, where he stayed till about 1628-29, and was strongly influenced by the circle of Bartolomeo Manfredi and other Caravaggisti. From c. 1629-1631 he lived for two years in Venice. He returned to Lucca in 1631 when his father died, and established a studio where he created an original style, in which he painted still lifes and cabinet pictures, often on musical or allegorical themes, including a series on Music, Astronomy, Geometry, and Philosophy. In 1652 he opened, an academy based on principle of art from nature, at which numerous artists, such as Girolamo Scaglia, Antonio Franchi, Simone del Tintore and his brother Francesco (1645–1718) were trained.Giovanni Coli and Filippo Gherardi were also pupils. He influenced Giovanni Domenico Lombardi (1682–1751).
Each person in this painting by Paolini represents one of the five senses. The Walters Art Museum.
It has been suggested that Pietro Paolino either was himself or was influenced by the elusive Caravaggist painter known as the Pensionero de Saraceni (or Pensioner (house-mate) of Carlo Saraceni). A room of his paintings can be found in the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi in Lucca. One other painting, Adoration of the shepherds, can be seen in the collections of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca and the painting A wife with her little daughter at the Musée Fesch Ajaccio (France, Corsica)