Son of the architect Giovanni Battista Mola, Pier Francesco was born in Coldrerio near Lugano in 1612. In 1616 he and his family moved to Rome where he spent the remainder of his life apart from some trips away during his years of training. His earliest documented works are chalk sketches and drawings in his father’s notebooks where he reveals a precocious interest in chiaroscuro. Although his travels are not well documented, it is known that between 1633 to 1640 and 1641 to 1647 he lived in the north of Italy and visited a number of cities including Bologna and Venice. There, he studied the works of the great northern painters and completed his studies, probably in the studio of Francesco Albani in Bologna. On his return to Rome in 1647, Mola’s style reflected a profound knowledge of the work of Titian, the Bassano, Guercino and Albani. Soon afterwards he began to receive important public commissions including the fresco decoration of the church of San Domenico e Sisto, in which he combined the monumentality and grandeur of Michelangelo and Raphael with Titian and Guercino’s colour. Mola’s most important work at this period is the fresco of Joseph greeting his Brothers, executed for the gallery of Alessandro VII in the Quirinale palace. The twelve surviving preparatory drawings reveal the care and precision with which Mola prepared this work. His work was also admired by other prestigious patrons, including the Colonna and Pamphilj families and Queen Christina of Sweden.

The Vision of Saint Bruno (J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu) of 1662 to 1663 reveals the markedly dramatic tone of his late works. In 1663 Mola was appointed president of the Accademia di San Luca, a post from which he resigned one year later due to a serious illness.