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The Auto-icon

Bentham's mortal remains have been at UCL since 1850

At the end of the South Cloisters of the main building of UCL stands a wooden cabinet, containing Bentham's 'Auto-Icon', or self-image.

The Auto-Icon consists of Bentham's preserved skeleton, dressed in suit of his own clothes, and surmounted by a wax head. Bentham requested that his body be preserved in this way in his will, made shortly before he died on 6 June 1832.

Many people have speculated as to exactly why Bentham chose to have his body preserved in this way, with explanations ranging from a practical joke at the expense of posterity to a sense of overweening self-importance. Perhaps the Auto-Icon may be more plausibly regarded as an attempt to question religious sensibilities about life and death. He also wished to encourage others to donate their bodies to medical science, and his corpse was dissected by his friend, Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, during a public lecture. He stripped the flesh from bones and subsequently created the auto-icon, keeping it at his house until 1850, when he gave it to UCL.

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