Magic: The Gathering – Could Classic Artists Get Secret Lairs?

One of these days, Wizards of the Coast will run out of material for their Secret Lair initiative. This is obviously a long, long way away from now because the fantasy genre is nearly endless, but, as a serious long-term inevitability, we wish to make this point clear from the get-go. And when that happens, Wizards will have to delve into other intellectual properties (an initiative that has already begun for Magic: The Gathering with Universes Beyond!), who will also eventually run out of material for whatever reason. So, when Wizards runs out of intellectual properties to collaborate with, they will have to delve into things they haven't quite yet considered, such as classical paintings and other things in a more public domain.

The full art for Damnation, a card within a Secret Lair drop for Magic: The Gathering. Illustrated by Seb McKinnon with Hieronymus Bosch in mind.
The full art for Damnation, a card within a Secret Lair drop for Magic: The Gathering. Illustrated by Seb McKinnon with Hieronymus Bosch in mind.

So, looking far into the future of Magic: The Gathering, as one does, we would like to posit six classic artists whose works would jive quite well with the game and all it currently has to offer us. These artists stem from what we have already seen for the game in different ways, ranging from perhaps melding well with certain tones or themes, or even as on-the-nose as the existence of current Magic artists whose works are reminiscent of a classic artist, to perhaps simply seeing that artist's work on a set of branded gaming supplies. The possibilities are about as open-ended an answer as there are classic art pieces that have even a hint of fantasy to them, really. We will be going color by color, here, and some of these options might come as a big surprise to you. Without further ado, let's dig in!

White: Hieronymus Bosch

Okay, hear us out.

So, while Hieronymus Bosch, the Netherlandish master painter, is renowned nowadays for his absolutely chaotic scenes and while those are certainly a great fit for red or black cards alike, we wish to have you consider the ramifications of thinking outside of the box. His triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights has three scenes on it. The third panel 100% fits that typical chaotic persona that Bosch displays so readily, but the first two panels are far more idyllic in a way that white has been known for on various cards and in various settings.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1490-1510, oil on oak panel)
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1490-1510, oil on oak panel)

Bosch absolutely could receive a Secret Lair drop all on his own, but a major superdrop with all manner of classic artists would best fit the conditions to allow for that, most likely. Let's see what other artists lend to this idea!

Blue: Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

The School of Athens, by Raffaello Sanzo da Urbino, more commonly known as Raphael, feels remarkably blue. There is a ton of crosstalk between the various subjects of the piece, and all the while the artist has made extensive use of framing devices to perfect the composition, just like the interpretation of blue in Magic intends to do. Let's look at it!

Raphael, The School of Athens (c.1509-1511, fresco)
Raphael, The School of Athens (c.1509-1511, fresco)

There is something very close to mathematical perfection within this piece of art, housed within the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Even if the exact details aren't blatantly obvious to the naked eye (especially over mobile, most likely), this piece of art just feels right, and it's very blue to want to feel right… right? And to wrap this section up, it's rather clear that Raphael might not get more than one major card in the drop series, but if it happened, this would be the piece for it.

Black: Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo is a sculptor and painter who is near and dear to me specifically, as we share a birthday. While he is more known for his many sculptures and for the remarkably white-vibed mural on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he's also done some rather spooky works as well. It pained me just last week, in fact, to find out that one of my friends didn't know that The Torment of Saint Anthony was a Michelangelo work. This is a piece that we have seen on a few pieces of UltraPro game supply materials, namely sleeves for Magic cards. And yes, this is the artwork that would push us to state that Michelangelo could be put on black cards in this hypothetical Secret Lair drop. Take a look at this!

Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487, tempera on panel)
Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487, tempera on panel)

If artwork as jarring as The Torment of Saint Anthony doesn't scream "Secret Lair drop" to you, it's possible that none of the pieces in this article will sate you. Let's move on!

Red: Francisco Goya

This inclusion is a bit of a departure from the typical Rennaissance style that we have looked at so far. The artwork by Spanish painter Francisco Goya is remarkably dark, but the pieces in his Black Painting set in particular have very warm tones and that to us feels quite red, especially with regard to how cards are framed in the card frame. We want to display here Witches' Sabbath from that series rather than Saturn Devouring His Son because that piece is too painfully obvious, and is most likely the first thing our audience will think to when they hear us discuss Goya.

Francisco Goya, Witches' Sabbath (c.1821-1823, oil on plaster wall)
Francisco Goya, Witches' Sabbath (c.1821-1823, oil on plaster wall)

Witches' Sabbath could be a panoramic set of cards in its own Secret Lair drop, couldn't it? There's a lot going on within this painting, and different cards could have representation with this one piece of art.

Green: Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo is the name of a major Rennaissance painter who you may not have heard of, but have definitely seen the art of. Arcimboldo would easily be the great subject of making another Maro card, as so many of his works are that of composite people made from various plant life (namely fruits and vegetables), like his Vertumnus painting:

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Vertumnus (1591, oil)
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Vertumnus (1591, oil)

The way this painter masterfully created the images of so many different plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables truly makes us drool to even think about!

We do have one more addition to this article, and it pertains to artifacts. This entry should be pretty clear:

Artifacts: Leonardo da Vinci

That's right, we had to. Leonardo da Vinci, or simply just Leonardo, has created all manner of artifacts in prototype, in practice, and in sketches which are in great part covered in a book of his works, entitled Codex Atlanticus. The Codex has war machines, thopters, weapons that Leonardo never wanted the world to learn to use, the works. As such, we could venture a theory that Urza and Mishra, the brothers behind The Brothers' War of Magic: The Gathering fame (which had been discussed in the early Antiquities expansion set and will be covered more fully in The Brothers' War later in 2022) were pretty directly inspired in concept by Leonardo and his many works, such as this flying machine:

Leonardo da Vinci, Aerial Screw (from Codex Atlanticus, 1489, sketch on paper)
Leonardo da Vinci, Aerial Screw (from Codex Atlanticus, 1489, sketch on paper)

What do you think about this article's contents? If you feel that we missed a good artist to discuss for eventual inclusion on a Magic: The Gathering card for a Secret Lair drop, please let us know in the comments below!

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About Joshua Nelson

Josh Nelson is a Magic: The Gathering deckbuilding savant, a self-proclaimed scholar of all things Sweeney Todd, and, of course, a writer for Bleeding Cool. In their downtime, Josh can be found painting models, playing Magic, or possibly preaching about the horrors and merits of anthropophagy. You can find them on Twitter at @Burning_Inquiry for all your burning inquiries.
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