J.J. Kaendler's original model for the figure of Saint John was executed between 1737 and 1740 and formed part of a seven-piece altar garniture. The garniture was an important diplomatic gift to the Dowager Empress Wilhelmine Amalie of Habsburg following the marriage of Prince Friedrich August II (later Augustus III, King of Poland) to her daughter, Maria Josepha, the oldest daughter of Emperor Joseph I. Widdowed at a young age, Wilhelmine Amalie remained in Vienna but withdrew from public life, devoting herself to a life of piety. The altar garniture was based on designs for a smaller garniture begun in 1735 for Annibale Albani (now in the Museo Albani, Naples), following engravings by Brühl. Like the Albani garniture this Habsburg garniture was based on marble statues in San Giovanni, Rome, but given a fresh reworking by Kaendler. The complete garniture comprising the three apostles Matthew, Bartholomew and Philip, the figure of Saint John, three pricket candlesticks and a crucifix was delivered to the Empress in 1740 along with a toilet service, all of which are decorated with her coat-of-arms.
The Empress had several private chapels and it is likely that several sets of these garnitures may exist, perhaps explaining the existance of this present example, left undecorated, the risks of transporting such expensive diplomatic gifts meant that copies of these figures may have existed in case a replacement was needed. Johanna Lessmann notes that there are two other known figures of the apostle James the Greater with the imperials arms, one in Vienna, another in the Museum für Kunsthandwerk in Frankfurt am Main, see 'Meissen Porcelain For the Imperial House in Vienna', Fragile Diplomacy, Meissen Porcelain for European Courts, ca. 1710-63, New York, 2007, pp. 111-118 for a full discussion of this garniture.