Ussi studied at the Florence Academy of Fine Arts and then served as a volunteer in the first war of independence, during which he was taken prisoner by the Austrian troops. Having returned to Florence, he won the Triennale prize for painting in 1849 and presented works on historical and literary subjects at the exhibitions of the Florentine Società Promotrice di Belle Arti in the following years. Associated with the Macchiaioli group of painters gravitating around the Caffè Michelangelo, he achieved great success with The Expulsion of the Duke of Athens (Florence, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti), exhibited in Florence at the city’s first Esposizione Nazionale in 1861 and was awarded a prize in Paris in 1867. Having visited Egypt two years later on the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal and returned there in 1872 by invitation of the Khedive, he accompanied an Italian diplomatic delegation to Morocco in 1875. The numerous drawings made during these travels provided material also in later years for a very successful series of paintings on Eastern subjects.