Zani de Ferranti was born in Bologna. He began on the violin, but switched to guitar at age 16. In 1820, he moved to Paris and later to Saint Petersburg, before settling in Belgium. He later toured in France, England, Italy, and the United States. Although praised by Hector Berlioz in 1859, as well as by Rossini and Paganini, Zani de Ferranti found the 1850s to be a period of decline and financial difficulty. He died in Pisa. One of his sons moved to England and became the father of Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti.