The Golden Legend relates that Christina was a beautiful young woman of noble birth in ancient Rome, who was persecuted for her Christian faith. She refused to worship pagan idols, which led her father and the judges of the town to torture her in various ways. They had asps and serpents attack her, threw her into a furnace, and cut out her tongue. She endured all of them but was eventually martyred with two arrows that pierced her heart and her side. For this reason the saint is often represented with an arrow and a palm branch, the symbol of martyrdom.

Bernardo Cavallino, one of the leading painters in seventeenth-century Naples, renders Christina’s beauty with feathery brushwork in the depiction of her face, which is emphasized against the dark neutral background. Her parted lips, tilted head, and delicate hand gesture add to the sensuality with which the artist depicted his imagined portraits of female saints.