Leonardo da Vinci’s Handwritten Resume (Circa 1482)


We know that Michelan­ge­lo wrote gro­cery lists; now we have evi­dence that Leonar­do wrote resumes. “Before he was famous, before he paint­ed the Mona Lisa and the Last Sup­per, before he invent­ed the heli­copter, before he drew the most famous image of man, before he was all of these things, Leonar­do da Vin­ci was an arti­fi­cer, an armor­er, a mak­er of things that go ‘boom,’ ” writes Marc Cen­del­la on his blog about job-search­ing and recruit­ment advice. “Like you, he had to put togeth­er a resume to get his next gig. So in 1482, at the age of 30, he wrote out a let­ter and a list of his capa­bil­i­ties and sent it off to Ludovi­co il Moro, Duke of Milan.” Hav­ing yet to estab­lish his rep­u­ta­tion as per­haps the Ital­ian Renais­sance’s most respect­ed poly­math, Leonar­do spelled him­self out, in trans­la­tion, as fol­lows:

Most Illus­tri­ous Lord, Hav­ing now suf­fi­cient­ly con­sid­ered the spec­i­mens of all those who pro­claim them­selves skilled con­trivers of instru­ments of war, and that the inven­tion and oper­a­tion of the said instru­ments are noth­ing dif­fer­ent from those in com­mon use: I shall endeav­or, with­out prej­u­dice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excel­len­cy, show­ing your Lord­ship my secret, and then offer­ing them to your best plea­sure and appro­ba­tion to work with effect at oppor­tune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly not­ed below.

1. I have a sort of extreme­ly light and strong bridges, adapt­ed to be most eas­i­ly car­ried, and with them you may pur­sue, and at any time flee from the ene­my; and oth­ers, secure and inde­struc­tible by fire and bat­tle, easy and con­ve­nient to lift and place. Also meth­ods of burn­ing and destroy­ing those of the ene­my.

2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trench­es, and make end­less vari­ety of bridges, and cov­ered ways and lad­ders, and oth­er machines per­tain­ing to such expe­di­tions.

3. If, by rea­son of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its posi­tion, it is impos­si­ble, when besieg­ing a place, to avail one­self of the plan of bom­bard­ment, I have meth­ods for destroy­ing every rock or oth­er fortress, even if it were found­ed on a rock, etc.

4. Again, I have kinds of mor­tars; most con­ve­nient and easy to car­ry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resem­bling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great ter­ror to the ene­my, to his great detri­ment and con­fu­sion.

5. And if the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most effi­cient for offense and defense; and ves­sels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and pow­der and fumes.

6. I have means by secret and tor­tu­ous mines and ways, made with­out noise, to reach a des­ig­nat­ed spot, even if it were need­ed to pass under a trench or a riv­er.

7. I will make cov­ered char­i­ots, safe and unat­tack­able, which, enter­ing among the ene­my with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could fol­low quite unhurt and with­out any hin­drance.

8. In case of need I will make big guns, mor­tars, and light ord­nance of fine and use­ful forms, out of the com­mon type.

9. Where the oper­a­tion of bom­bard­ment might fail, I would con­trive cat­a­pults, man­gonels, tra­boc­chi, and oth­er machines of mar­vel­lous effi­ca­cy and not in com­mon use. And in short, accord­ing to the vari­ety of cas­es, I can con­trive var­i­ous and end­less means of offense and defense.

10. In times of peace I believe I can give per­fect sat­is­fac­tion and to the equal of any oth­er in archi­tec­ture and the com­po­si­tion of build­ings pub­lic and pri­vate; and in guid­ing water from one place to anoth­er.

11. I can car­ry out sculp­ture in mar­ble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in paint­ing what­ev­er may be done, as well as any oth­er, be he who he may.

Again, the bronze horse may be tak­en in hand, which is to be to the immor­tal glo­ry and eter­nal hon­or of the prince your father of hap­py mem­o­ry, and of the illus­tri­ous house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-named things seem to any­one to be impos­si­ble or not fea­si­ble, I am most ready to make the exper­i­ment in your park, or in what­ev­er place may please your Excel­len­cy – to whom I com­ment myself with the utmost humil­i­ty, etc.

Even the dens­est fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry Duke, I wager, could see the use in a man able to make portable bridges, get water out of trench­es, destroy rock built upon rock, fling a storm of stones, for­ti­fy ves­sels, pass under rivers, and make every­thing from “big guns,” cat­a­pults, man­gonels, and tra­boc­chi to unat­tack­able cov­ered char­i­ots. Though Leonar­do under­stand­ably con­cen­trates on his wartime engi­neer­ing skills, he also touch­es on the range of oth­er dis­ci­plines — Renais­sance man, remem­ber — he has mas­tered, like archi­tec­ture, sculp­ture, and paint­ing. Per­haps most impres­sive­ly of all, he rat­tles off all these points with­out seem­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly boast­ful. “You’ll notice he doesn’t recite past achieve­ments,” Cen­del­la adds, “because those are about his achieve­ments, and not about the Duke’s needs.” Still, he might have added that, giv­en just a few more years, he could design a pret­ty cap­ti­vat­ing organ.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Michelangelo’s Hand­writ­ten 16th-Cen­tu­ry Gro­cery List

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Note­books Get Dig­i­tized: Where to Read the Renais­sance Man’s Man­u­scripts Online

Leonar­do Da Vinci’s To-Do List from 1490: The Plan of a Renais­sance Man

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