Leonardo da Vinci's Cover Letter (1482) and its Learnings

Leonardo da Vinci's Cover Letter (1482) and its Learnings

This is probably one of the best cover letters ever written. A model of its kind! It is not surprising, since it was written by a man of genius from the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, who excelled in so many fields. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, urban planner, botanist, musician, poet, philosopher and writer.

Leonardo da Vinci's famous job application letter

Around 1480, well before the realization of works that will make him world famous, such as the Mona Lisa, the young Leonardo da Vinci is looking for a job. He was then just 30 years old and approached the future Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, in the hope of being admitted to his court.

Knowing his record and knowing that he was looking to recruit military engineers, the young Italian Leonardo da Vinci wrote an exceptional cover letter in which he listed everything he could do to offer the future Duke incomparable military advantages.

This letter bore fruit, as Leonardo da Vinci would get the job. Ten years later, Sforza commissioned him to paint The Last Supper.

Here is the job application letter that Leonardo da Vinci sent to the future Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza:

My Most Illustrious Lord,

Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below:

1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats and how to make an infinite number of bridges, mantlets and scaling ladders and other instruments necessary to such an enterprise.

3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.

4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.

5. Also, I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise, even if it should be necessary to pass underneath moats or any river.

6. Also, I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery, and there is no host of armed men so great that they would not break through it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow, quite uninjured and unimpeded.

7. Also, should the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design that are quite out of the ordinary.

8. Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence.

9. And should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence, and craft which will resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke.

10. In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another.

Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.

Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park or in whatsoever place shall please Your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

Isn't this one of the most beautiful cover letters you've ever read?

What to remember about Leonardo's cover letter

When you want to write a convincing cover letter, you might as well be inspired by the best. Leonardo da Vinci's cover letter is full of lessons.

Here are the tips and lessons you can draw from it:

  • Immediately captivate the reader with a powerful opening line. This is the best way to attract the recruiter's attention and ensure that he or she reads your cover letter. Leonardo da Vinci's job application letter is exemplary in this respect: He talks about secrets that he will briefly reveal. He also promises that the inventions he is about to reveal are far superior to what exists in military matters. He thus arouses the reader's curiosity from the introduction and makes him want to read on to discover these famous secrets.
  • Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes and try to understand his needs. In this letter, Leonardo da Vinci starts from the needs of the future Duke of Milan and not from what he could learn or gain from a job at his court. He speaks in his first sentence about war machines and this is precisely what interests Sforza. It is interesting to note that he only mentions his artistic talents in the tenth point because that is not what Sforza is most interested in. (Pro tip: What matters to a recruiter is the benefits your work can provide, not the benefits you will get from the job.)
  • Be specific and use examples. Very practical examples, eventually with numbers, are more telling and convincing than abstract arguments. Leonardo da Vinci describes his inventions with precision: He doesn't say he has expertise in building bridges, but gives very concrete examples of his know-how. This makes his expertise all the more credible.
  • End your letter with a concluding sentence that makes people want to meet you. In his letter, Leonardo da Vinci does not actually reveal all his secrets. He only reveals the surface and already makes the future Duke want to meet him to find out more. Finally, he offers to demonstrate his inventions.
  • The best cover letters are not those that follow the rules to the letter, but rather those that are personal. Speak frankly and sincerely: You will be much more convincing than by using ready-made formulas or by copying a standard cover letter found on the Internet. Follow our tips for writing an original cover letter to set yourself apart from other candidates.

This is probably the best example of a powerful, original cover letter, so get inspired for your next job application letter!

Jerome Feys

Jerome Feys

Job in Berlin's Founder

As a recruitment expert and founder of Job in Berlin, I have corrected over 1,000 resumes. Since 2015, I've been sharing my expertise and delivering tips on resume and cover letter writing, as well as techniques for a successful job interview.

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