Malvasia is the Bolognese equivalent of Giorgio Vasari, and saw his native city surpassing Florence in the artistic supremacy of his time. Born to an aristocratic family, he is also known as Count Carlo Malvasia. He received cursory training in painting under Giacinto Campana and Giacomo Cavedone. He also was an amateur poet and participated in local literary circles. He traveled to Rome in 1639 where he met Cardinal Bernardino Spada and the sculptor Alessandro Algardi. He graduated as a lawyer, and lectured on the subject at the university in Bologna. He obtained a theology degree in 1653, and was appointed a canon in Bologna Cathedral in 1662.
His Felsina pittrice is a principal sources of information about the wave of painters from Emilia-Romagna that rose to Italian pre-eminence during the Baroque. Over the years, the book has been criticized for inaccuracies and, that for example, unlike the contemporary Gian Pietro Bellori, his writings are mere compilation of facts embellished by courtly flourishes, but lacking critical assessment or core ideology (other than a provincial attachment to his native city). He collects biographies of Francesco Francia, the Ludovico and Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni (whom he considered the foremost painter of his time), Domenichino, Bartolomeo Schedoni, Elisabetta Sirani, Francesco Albani and Guercino. He also published a guide to Bolognese antiquities called Marmorea Felsina (1690). He was a collector and also an agent for Louis XIV’s interests in the Bolognese artworks.