Carriera was born in Venice into a modest family and was most likely self-taught. She became internationally celebrated as a pastel portraitist, often portraying foreign visitors to Venice. In 1705 she was elected a member of the artist's academy in Rome, the Accademia di San Luca.
In 1720-1 she was in Paris where she painted Louis XV (1710–1774) as a boy and became a member of the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Among her many admirers was Frederick-Augustus II, elector of Saxony, who filled a room in his Dresden palace with more than one hundred of her pastels. In 1745 Carriera's eyesight began to deteriorate and by 1749 she had become permanently blind, thus no longer being able to work. Her mastery of the pastel medium helped transform it into a serious and highly-admired art form.