Born in Venice, Jacopo had probably been a pupil of Gentile da Fabriano, who was then in Venice. In 1411–1412 he was in Foligno, where with Gentile he worked at the Palazzo Trinci frescoes. In 1423 Bellini was in Florence, where he knew the new works by Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masolino da Panicale and Masaccio.
In 1424 he opened a workshop in Venice, which he ran right up until his death, and which trained his sons and other artists.
Many of his greatest works, including the enormous Crucifixion in the cathedral of Verona (1436), have disappeared. From c. 1430 is the panel with Madonna and Child, in the Accademia Carrara, once attributed to Gentile da Fabriano. In 1441, at Ferrara, where he was at the service of Leonello d'Este together with Leon Battista Alberti, he executed a portrait of that Marquess, now lost. Of this period survives the Madonna dell'Umiltà, probably commissioned by one of the brothers of Leonello.
The influence from Masolino da Panicale towards more modern, early Renaissance themes is visible in the Madonna with Child (dated 1448) in the Pinacoteca di Brera: for the first time, perspective is present and the figure are more monumental. Later he contributed with works now lost to the Venetian churches of
San Giovanni Evangelista (1452) and St. Mark (1466). From 1459 is a Madonna with Blessing Child in the Gallerie dell'Accademia.
Later he sojourned in Padua, where he trained a young Andrea Mantegna in perspective and classicist themes and where, in 1460, he finished a portrait of Erasmo Gattamelata, now lost. Of his late phase, a ruined Crucifix in the Museum of Verona and an Annunciation in the church of Sant'Alessandro of Brescia remain.
Giovanni Fontana showed Bellini a treatise on perspective.