Tagliacozzi was born in Bologna.
Tagliacozzi began his medical studies in 1565. He studied at the University of Bologna under Gerolamo Cardano for medicine, Ulisse Aldrovandi for natural sciences and Julius Caesar Aranzi for anatomy. At the age of twenty-four, earned his degree in philosophy and medicine.
He was then appointed professor of surgery and later was appointed professor of anatomy. He taught at the Archiginnasio of Bologna. The amphitheater in which Tagliacozzi taught was severely damaged by American bombing during World War II. The theater was rebuilt and currently houses a wooden statue of Tagliacozzi. It is in this room that Tagliacozzi taught until 1595.
In 1568, two years before graduating, Tagliacozzi began practicing in the Hospital of Death, which was a sort of clinic for students since it was near the Archiginnasio. The hospital was run by a Brotherhood of Death whose job was to visit prisons and comfort those condemned to death. Through this brotherhood Tagliacozzi procured the bodies of executed prisoners for use in dissections. In his will, Tagliacozzi gave the responsibility of his burial to the brotherhood.
He improved on the work of the Sicilian Surgeon Gustavo Branca and his son Antonio (who lived in Catania in the 15th century) and developed the so-called "Italian method" of nasal reconstruction. His principal work is entitled De Curtorum Chirurgia per Insitionem (1597) (“On the Surgery of Mutilation by Grafting”). In this book, he described in great detail the procedures that were being carried out empirically by the Branca and Vianeo families of Sicily since the 15th century AD. The work has bestowed upon him the honor of being one of the first plastic surgeons and a quote from the book has become synonymous with plastic surgery. "We restore, rebuild, and make whole those parts which nature hath given, but which fortune has taken away. Not so much that it may delight the eye, but that it might buoy up the spirit, and help the mind of the afflicted."