Jeremy Bentham (1747-1832) was a prominent English philosopher and jurist of the 18th and 19th century.
Born to a prosperous family in London, Bentham was expected to follow his father into the law, and although he did indeed embark on this path he was frustrated by the inadequacies of the existing system as he found it, and instead spent his life suggesting ways in which it could be improved.
Bentham is regarded as the founder of modern Utilitarianism, of which the fundamental principal "the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong" was the predominant theme of his work and advocacy. He passionately campaigned for radical changes in the development of welfarism, including individual and economic freedoms, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalising of homosexual acts.
In a typically extraordinary fashion, Bentham made arrangements for his head and skeleton to be preserved, clothed, and available for display at University College London, where it still currently resides inside a wooden and glass case. This, Bentham's's final homage to a lifetime spent in the pursuit of equality in the law, allowed him to leave his body as a secular reliquary and testament to his philosophy that the human body should be ''disposed of with a view to the felicity of mankind—in a word, to the best advantage—the comparatively incorruptible part converted to an Auto-Icon, the soft and corruptible parts employed for the purpose of anatomical instruction''
Bentham's auto-icon will be part of Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now), opening on 21st March 2018 at the Met Breuer gallery within The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Jean Baptiste Say (1767-1832), to whom Bentham bequeathed this ring, was a French economist, businessman and industrialist whose liberal views led him to argue for the development of free trade and competition. He is best known for the introduction of Say's Law, which popularized his theory that "Inherent in supply is the wherewithal for its own consumption".
John Field, the sihouette artist responsible for creating Bentham's portrait in this ring, established his own business at 2 The Strand in 1830 and was working by appointment to William IV and Queen Adelaide by this time. Field's silhouette sittings took no more than five minutes, such was his incredible skill at capturing a detailed likeness through this medium of portraiture.
The term 'silhouette' refers to Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67), the onetime Controller General of Finance of France, whose policy to enforce rigorous economy became synonymous with the reduction of a figure to its most basic form.