In the lunette above, the isolated figure of St. Elena, the mother of Constantine, holds the cross and the nails of the Crucifixion. Her uninhibited frontal pose contrasts with the Virgin Mary’s elegant profile below. The Holy Family nestles together on the side of the composition marked by a classical Roman edifice. The three magi do not traverse beyond this point, as though it were a sacred space.
Sabatini painted this expertly balanced altarpiece for the cathedral of his native Salerno around 1520. Like the Capodimonte Deposition, this painting belongs to the most accomplished phase of his career during which he seemed in harmony with Raphael. The architecture in this work, for example, derives from studies Raphael’s workshop made of Roman monuments, in this case the Theatre of Marcellus.