He was born into a family of artists at Bedano, a village 7 km north of the Ticinese capital Lugano. He studied at Parma under a sculptor, and also in the Academy, and became known for his ornamental architectural decorations. In 1770, he travelled to Tuscany to perform with his brother Grato the stucco decoration of the Villa del Poggio Imperiale. He then visited Rome and then Naples, where he briefly worked with Carlo Vanvitelli. In 1774, he returned north to his family in Bedano; soon he met up with Giuseppe Piermarini for whom he collaborated in future stucco decoration of palaces.
In 1776 he was elected professor of ornamenti architettonici (architectural ornament) at the newly created Brera Academy in Milan; he held this post for more than a quarter of a century until failing eyesight caused him to resign in 1812. From 1775-1779, Piermarini erected the Royal Villa at Monza, with Albertolli providing the stucco decoration. He also labored in the Palazzo Melzi d'Eril in Milan and designed (1808-1815) the famed lakeside Villa Melzi d'Eril in Bellagio. He rebuilt a Bramantesque chapel in Moncucco, called Shrine of Saint Lucius.
He published a number of treatises on his art, including:
- Ornamenti Diversi (1782)
- Alcune Decorazioni di Nobili Sale (1787)
- Miscellanea per i giovanni studioso del disegno (1796)
- Corso elementare di ornamenti architettonici (1805)
In 1809 Napoleon made him a Knight of the Iron Crown. Albertolli was much employed in decorating palaces, churches, and public buildings in Italy, and gave a new impetus to the art of ornamental design in that country. He worked on designs of altars, candlesticks, chalices, and lamps for churches. His paintings are scarce. A Madonna and Child by him is in the Milanese church of San Rocco.
Giocondo Albertolli died in Milan in 1839 at the age of ninety-six. His son, Rafaello was an engraver. Giocondo's nephew, Giacomo Albertolli, was a professor of civil architecture in Padua, later in Milan, where he replaced his teacher, Piermarini.
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- Bryan, Michael (1886). Robert Edmund Graves, ed. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume I: A-K). York St. #4, Covent Garden, London; Original from Fogg Library, Digitized May 18, 2007: George Bell and Sons. p. 14.
- Boni, Filippo de' (1852). Biografia degli artisti ovvero dizionario della vita e delle opere dei pittori, degli scultori, degli intagliatori, dei tipografi e dei musici di ogni nazione che fiorirono da'tempi più remoti sino á nostri giorni. Seconda Edizione.. Venice; Googlebooks: Presso Andrea Santini e Figlio. p. 12.