In 1540 Pope Paul III gave papal permission for the foundation of The Society of Jesus lead by the converted Spanish Basque soldier St. Ignatius Loyola. Along with a band of highly intellectual missionaries he aimed to teach moral and religious instruction in an effort to make devotional life accessible for all. From the mid-16th century onwards Francis Xavier (1506-1552) and Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), two such missionaries striving to spread the message of the Gospels, reached the depths of Goa and China respectively establishing Christian communities and colleges for training priests.
Reliefs such as the present lot, made from indigenous materials such as ivory, were produced on a large scale by these communities and very often for export to the Hispanic colonies. They functioned as a portable aid to prayer allowing the pious to be close to God even out of church.