Ferrari was born in Naples in 1685. He held the degree of LL.D. and appears to have practiced for a time as an advocate. In Naples Ferrari met Thomas Hobart, who induced him to abandon Catholicism for the Anglican Church. Hobart also introduced Ferrari to Thomas Coke, later Viscount Coke of Holkham and Earl of Leicester, who made Ferrari his librarian. In 1710 Ferrari was incorporated at Cambridge and he appears to have stayed at St John’s. In the summer of that year he acted as a guide to Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach during his visit to Cambridge. His death in May 1744, at the Earl of Leicester’s house in London, was reported in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which states that ‘a large stone of the size of a turkey egg’ was extracted from his body post mortem. Ferrari left a valuable library to the Earl of Leicester, and some 170 books bearing his provenance are to be found in the library at Holkham Hall.
Ferrari left 51 volumes, containing some 98 works, to St John's, in gratitude for the College's hospitality. These date mainly from the 16th century and include a unique collection of tracts relating to the French and Italian Reformations, some from the library of Heinrich Bullinger. The gem of the collection is a unique copy of the Trattato ultissimo del beneficio di Giesu Christo crocifisso verso i Christiani, printed in Venice in 1543. This spiritual work, attributed to Benedetto da Mantova and Marcantonio Flaminio, was hugely popular. Pietro Paolo Vergerio declared that 40,000 copies were sold in Venice alone, and King Edward VI is said to have kept a copy beside his bed. In 1549, however, it was proscribed by the Index librorum prohibitorum, and was so ruthlessly exterminated by the Roman Inquisition that no exemplar was thought to have survived, until Ferrari’s copy was catalogued in 1843 and subsequently reproduced in facsimile in 1855. Another interesting item given by Ferrari is Michel Servetus's edition of Ptolemy's Geography (1541), which contains numerous woodcut maps, including the first to bear the name 'America'.
The books given by Ferrari bear a book label detailing his bequest. In translation it reads:
In witness of a grateful heart, for many acts of kindness conferred by the College of St John the Evangelist in Cambridge, did the most illustrious Domenico Antonio Ferrari, Doctor of Law of Naples, bequeath to the said College this book among others most choice, 1744. Witness J. Creyk.