What every business owner and marketer ought to know about this powerfully persuasive 500-year-old letter by Leonardo Da Vinci

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By Matthew Oxborrow – Founder, Medici Marketing 

This letter (pictured below – translation at bottom of page) changed Leonardo Da Vinci’s life. The lessons within could change yours too, so read to the end.

Leonardo Da Vinci letter to Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza writing to persuade how to get clients

The letter that changed Da Vinci’s life.

Imagine for a moment you’re Leonardo Da Vinci…

It’s the 1480s and Italy is at war with itself. You’re young, you’re bright, and you have many skills. But you need work and few people know who you are.

North of the rolling Tuscan hills of your birth lies Milan.

The Duke of Milan – Ludovico Sforza – has a violent reputation and an appetite for war.

He needs engineers in his service to build tools for defence and attack.

The job will give you the wealth, experience and contacts to set you up for life.

But every ambitious engineer is applying for the role.

You’re not well-known and, although you’re a competent engineer, you’re a specialist painter.

What do you do to beat your competition?

Well, if you’re anything like Leonardo Da Vinci, you send a letter of application.

That’s right. Just as you do to apply for a job or to prospect for clients.

The effort paid off. A decade letter, the Duke hired Da Vinci to paint one of the most famous paintings in the history of the world. The Last Supper.

It’s not ridiculous to claim that, without this letter, many of Da Vinci’s greatest works would never have existed.

If he hadn’t found willing employers and patrons, he would never have had the resources to create what he created. The world would have been poorer for it.

You see, you could have all the skills in the world… But if you don’t know how to communicate to people that need them, you’ll never get anywhere in life.

Here, concisely, are 7 things you can learn from this letter that could change your life forever.

  1. The letter is all about what he can do for the Duke, not why he wants the job. Never does he say “I want this job because..” Instead, he says “Here’s what I can do for you.”

    This is point 1 on the list and lesson number 1 in persuasive writing.

  2. He explains why he’s different. Often in life, you don’t need to be better, just different. In the opening paragraphs, Da Vinci shares that he’s emboldened by the fact the designs of other engineers are common. They’re copies of what already exists. Da Vinci can offer something different.

  3. The letter is personalised. He’s going for a big gig here. He’s not mass mailing his CV titled “To whom it may concern.” He knows who he’s writing to and it shows.

  4. He uses emotion. Good copywriters know emotion determines action. You use logic to back up and justify emotion. “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.” This is clever because he’s subtly saying: If you hire me, I won’t just do the job, your father will eternally honoured. He also uses flattery. That’s one of the most powerful emotions you can use.

  5. He overcomes objections by offering to prove what he says. He realises that humans are cynical. Why would the Duke believe what he has to say? So he offers to prove it. Pack your letters, emails, website copy and all communications with as much proof as you can find.

  6. He tailors the message to the Duke’s major needs but includes some useful bonuses. The list explains what he can do better than other engineers. At then end he adds “Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other.”  He’s giving every reason and benefit he can to the duke so that he’ll hire him.

  7. He hired a pro. The Duke of Milan didn’t know how to build war machines so he hired a pro. So he knew how to a hammer and nail, that didn’t make him an engineer. Da Vinci didn’t know how to write persuasively so he hired a pro. He knew how to read and write, but he didn’t know what to say and how to say it with proven principles of psychology.

Although he might not have realised it, this letter is a very early form of direct response marketing. The same principles still apply today because human persuasion hasn’t changed.

Maybe you write the with a keyboard rather than a quill and paper, but the principles are the same.

Few people realise that direct response marketing is the fastest and most affordable way to reliably grow a business. If you want to grow your business, then I strongly suggest you read this free report on direct response marketing: How to scientifically get more customers – risk-free.


Translation of the letter to English

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.

If you’d like to learn more about persuasive writing and direct response marketing, then download this free report now. It could change your life, just as it did with Da Vinci.

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