The relief is situated over the entrance to the nave in St. Peter's, Rome. It had originally decorated the entrance wall when it was first completed in 1633, and moved to its present place over the entrance in 1646. It was a part of the refurbishment of St. Peter's by Pope Urban VIII to commemorate the consecration of the church to Saint Peter.
Bernini saw this entrance as the main entrance to the house of God. Jesus had handed Peter the authority to look after his 'flock'. With Jesus' blessing, Peter was the main authority for the Disciples when Jesus had to leave. The sculptural work and detail are designed to give all visitors to the church the knowledge that this is a church of Peter and therefore a church of authority. The command: 'feed my sheep' would have meant spiritual as well as physical tending and keeping.
With such an entrance to the church, Bernini wanted a sculptural relief and not a painted one. He believed that sculpture was closer to the natural form of art, closer to god and was more appropriate for this church. In the relief, Jesus is clearly shown giving commands to Peter, who is kneeling before him. There are other disciples in the frieze and the metaphorical sheep.
Bernini wanted a bas-relief for this sculptural frieze produced from marble. Using a shallower depth for the figures, he allowed the figures to be viewed from any angle. This revealed details of the figures and their apparent movement and fluidity without any distortion. It was a large work and produced with help from the members of Bernini's workshop. The figures appear as life-like and the scene is self-explanatory as ' Pasce Oves Meas'.
Bernini wanted to make sure the pilgrims and visitors to St. Peter's would appreciate every aspect of the church in their journey through it. Starting at the entrance, with the large marble frieze depicting Peter receiving commands of 'feed my sheep' from Jesus; the pilgrims and visitors to the church would be in no doubt that this was a high church in the Christian religion. The message is that everyone using the church should have a spiritual and uplifting visit where their devotion to Christ is rewarded by just being there. At least, that message of 'feed my sheep', as the congregation and visitors go through the entrance to the main church would seem to convey that.