Known as the ‘Apostle of Rome’ due to his labours amongst the sick and poor of the city, Philip Neri (1515-1595) became an influential figure of the Counter-Reformation. Many miracles were attributed to him, and he was beatified by Paul V in 1615. His popularity and place in the folklore of Rome created a demand for his depiction within the church.
For example, Carlo Maratta’s painting for San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, the preliminary study for which bears relation to the present composition (Royal Collection, inv. 905553). The fresh and freely modeled handling of the present relief is in the tradition of Giovanni Antonio Mazzuoli’s (1644-1706) small-scale modelli for altarpieces (C. Sisi and G. Gentilini, La Scultura : bozzetti in terracotta, piccoli marmi e altre sculture dal XIV al XX secolo, Florence, 1989, nos. 92-95).