While I usually don't tell my future employers about my amazing talent for blowing things up and my penchant for bringing terror to my enemies, it worked for Leonardo Da Vinci when petitioning patron Ludovico Sforza. For most of us, resumes and cover letters are an unfortunate, but necessary reality for job hunting. It wasn't so different for Da Vinci and his cover letter/resume to Sforza is yet another mark of his genius. Not only did it earn him Sforza's patronage, but it is also a great example of how to rhetorically appeal to prospective employers.
I first read the letter itself courtesy of Bruce Sterling's Tumblr. It seems it was originally translated and posted on Marc Cenedella's blog, per an agreement with the Leonardo3 research center. Interestingly, within the letter Da Vinci mentions three of his creations that made our list of his top 10 inventions: the machine gun, the armored tank and "the city of the future." Here's a translation:
Da Vinci does a lot of things right with this letter, which helped convince Sforza he was the man for the job. Most importantly, if you step back and look at history, Da Vinci did his homework on Sforza and appealed to both his needs and vanity. The letter was written sometime around 1482, when Sforza was not yet officially the Duke of Milan, but Da Vinci still makes sure to refer to him as "your Excellency" and an "Illustrious Lord" throughout. At the time, Sforza had been struggling with his nephew for the regency and was even exiled at one point for his actions. It wasn't until twelve years later that his title was legitimized after his nephew died under "mysterious circumstances" and Sforza married off his niece to Roman emperor Maximilian I.
The offer to construct a bronze horse in "happy memory" of Sforza's father was simply gravy to dress the letter up in further appeals to the regent's pride. Ironically, Sforza later used the bronze to produce weapons instead. Clearly, Da Vinci knew he'd have need of them, since most of the letter boasts about building all sorts of guns, explosives, "tortuous mines" and unattackable covered chariots. Probably aware of Sforza's family power struggle, Da Vinci sold himself as a death dealer first and an artistic intellectual second.
Knowing that Sforza was a patron to many artists and engineers was likely why Da Vinci offered to prove his worth in an "experiment in your park" if others should challenge his claims. Notice that he strives to appear objective ("without prejudice to anyone else") about his peers, even when he belittles them as "specimens... who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war."
Braggadocio may be the best tool Da Vinci uses to build his case for Sforza. Not only does he provide an extensive list of war machines he can construct, but he also tells the regent he can paint as well as anyone else available. Today it would read something like, "Not only can I slaughter your enemies in gory detail, but if you need someone to paint your mistress with an ermine, I'm your guy."
Alluding to his "secret," Da Vinci describes himself enigmatically to lure Sforza to his unique character. It isn't a secret anymore; Da Vinci was a really smart guy. This letter just shows that beyond engineering, architecture, painting, sculpting and his many other skills, Da Vinci was also a master of written persuasion. Appealing to an employer's emotions and needs, while showing what makes you extraordinary are clever ways to get their attention. I'd just leave out the part about raining an explosive storm of stones upon thine enemies.
LOTS MORE INFORMATION
Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. "Ludovico Sforza." 2013. Accessed online 11/15/13.
Alfredo, B. "Sforza, Ludovico." Britannica Biographies. 2012. Accessed online 11/15/13.