A Far Cry From Islington

(With apologies to Muriel Spark)

Of the six sestieri of Venice, Dorsoduro is one of the less “touristic”. It attracts artists, designers and writers. Walter Sickert, “the godfather of modern British art”, worked in Venice on and off for ten years, and , after his first few years of painting its most famous buildings, painted lesser known views such as that of the 16th century church of the Carmini in Dorsoduro.

Ever since former psychoanalyst Salley Vickers made the Dorsoduro church of Angelo Raffaele central to the action of her first novel, Miss Garnet’s Angel, it has become something of a pilgrimage destination for her readers. (I can testify from my own visits there at intervals of a few years that it has grown sprucer and more available for visits.)

Salley Vickers underpins her story of Miss Garnet with the ancient tale of Tobias, who travels to Media unaware he is accompanied by the Archangel Raphael. She also tells, on her website, of the Cima altarpiece – in Carmini – of the Nativity, where Tobias stands with his dog and his fish, holding a kindly Raphael’s hand. It’s useful to know that Raphael, who is identified with healing, was associated with Dorsoduro as the totem of sailors arriving from the East bringing silk, spice – and the Black Death.

This week, I made my own little pilgrimage to 1, Highbury Place, North London, where Sickert ran his painting and engraving school in the 1920s and 1930s. He drew his initial full-size sketch for The Raising of Lazarus on the studio’s papered wall. After a brisk walk of twenty minutes or so, I was back at the Northern Line’s Angel Station. This is where Dorsoduro and Islington collided in my mind.

On the evening of 1st October, 1946, five minutes before six o’ clock, the driver of a Northern Line tube train was obliged to stop two hundred yards short of Angel Station. He saw ahead of him a large white dog, which began to trot towards the station. As the train followed slowly, through the next ten stops, the dog loped steadily ahead. As the train approached Clapham Common, the dog stopped at the side of the tunnel to let it pass. Then, as the train pulled out of the station, the dog jumped onto the platform, passed through the exit and up the escalator, and out into the street.

Professor Michael Gilmour, on the Huffpost Blog, declares himself an animal lover and dog owner, and explains in scholarly fashion that the dog in the Book of Tobit appears for each leg of the journey undertaken by Tobias and Raphael. In neither instance is the dog introduced or explained. Professor Gilmour entitles his post: “Is that Biblical Dog an Angel? “.

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