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Giovanni Ricci was born in Montepulciano on November 1, 1498, the son of Pietro Antonio Ricci. Disliking his stepmother, Giovanni Ricci traveled to Rome at age 15, seeking the protection of his father's friend Tarugi, a nobleman from Montepulciano, who could not convince the youth to return to Montepulciano. He later entered the court of Cardinal Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, the future Pope Julius III as assistant to the master of chamber; he became the cardinal's master of chamber upon the death of the old master of chamber. He later entered the service of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, iuniore. He was sent on diplomatic missions to the Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Burgundy, which he accomplished successfully.
He then entered the ecclesiastical estate and became a protonotary apostolic participantium. In 1542, he became a cleric in the Apostolic Camera. He was later to serve as apostolic collector for the Kingdom of Portugal, and nuncio to the Kingdom of France and to Austria.
On June 25, 1544, he was elected Archbishop of Manfredonia. From June 27, 1544 to March 4, 1550, he was nuncio to the Kingdom of Portugal (though he was unable to enter Lisbon until September 1545.) On February 20, 1545, he was transferred to the see of Chiusi, though he was allowed to retain the title of archbishop ad personam.
Pope Julius III made him a cardinal priest in the consistory of November 20, 1551. He received the red hat and the titular church of San Vitale on December 4, 1551. He resigned the government of Chiusi sometime before November 19, 1554.
He was a participant in the papal conclave of April 1555 that elected Pope Marcellus II; the papal conclave of May 1555 that elected Pope Paul IV; and the papal conclave of 1559 that elected Pope Pius IV.
He participated in the papal conclave of 1565-66 that elected Pope Pius V. On January 30, 1566, he opted for Sant'Angelo in Pescheria, a deaconry assigned as titulus, and then, on October 7, 1566, for the titular church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He was transferred to the metropolitan see of Pisa on September 3, 1567.
On July 3, 1570, he opted for the order of cardinal bishops, taking the suburbicarian see of Albano. He was a participant in the papal conclave of 1572 that elected Pope Gregory XIII. He opted for the suburbicarian see of Sabina on April 8, 1573.