To Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan
Having now, most illustrious Lord, sufficiently seen the specimens of
all those who consider themselves master craftsmen of instruments of war,
and that the invention and operation of such instruments are no different
from those in common use, I Shall now endeavor without offending anyone,
to explain myself to your Excellency by revealing to your Lordship my secrets
and then offering them for your pleasure and approbation to work with effect
at the opportune time as well as all those things which, in part, shall
be briefly noted below.
- I have the kind of bridges that are extremely light and strong, made
to be carried with great ease, and with them you may pursue and, at any
time, flee from the enemy; and there are others, that are safe, indestructible
by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and set up; and also methods
of burning and destroying those of the enemy.
- I know how, when a place is under attack, to eliminate the water from
the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and
ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.
- If, because of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place
and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to follow a
plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every castle or other
fortress, even if it were built on rock, etc.
- I also have other kinds of mortars that are most convenient and easy
to carry; and with these small stones can be thrown creating the effect
of a storm; and the smoke produced by this will strike terror into the
hearts of the enemy to his great detriment and confusion.
- And if it should be a sea battle, I have many kinds of machines that
are most efficient for offense and defense; I also have vessels which will
resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.
- I also have means that are noiseless to reach a designated area by
secret and tortuous mines and ways, even if they had to pass under a trench
- I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which can penetrate
the enemy with their artillery, and there is no body of men strong enough
to prevent them from breaking through. And behind these, infantry could
advance unharmed and without any hindrance.
- In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of
fine and useful forms that are out of the ordinary.
- If the operation of bombardment should fail, I would contrive catapults,
mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvelous efficacy and unusualness.
In short, I can, according to each case in question contrive various and
endless means of offense and defense.
- In time of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction that is
equal to any other in the field of architecture and the construction of
buildings, public and private, and in directing water from one place to
I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also in painting
I do the best that can be done, and as well as any other, whoever he may
Again, the bronze horse may be taken up, which is to be to the immortal
glory and eternal honor of the happy memory of the prince, your father,
and of the illustrious house of Sforza. And if any of the above-named things
appear to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am more than ready
to test the experiment in your park or in whatever place may please your
Excellency, to whom I commend myself with the utmost humility, etc.
Leonardo Da Vinci, 1452-1519 Trans. adapted from Julie Conaway Bondanella
and Mark Musa, The Italian Renaissance Reader (New York, 1987),