|Artist||Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder|
|Year||1619: original version|
1965 : current version
|Dimensions||61 cm (24 in)|
|Location||City of Brussels, Brussels-Capital Region, Belgium|
Manneken Pis (Dutch: [ˌmɑnəkə(m) ˈpɪs] (listen); Dutch for '"Little Pissing Man"') is a landmark 61 cm (24 in) bronze fountain sculpture of a puer mingens in central Brussels (Belgium), depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin. It was designed by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder (1570–1641), and put in place in 1618 or 1619. The current statue is a replica which dates from 1965. The original is kept in the Brussels City Museum. Manneken Pis is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels. It also embodies their sense of humour (called zwanze in Brussels' dialect) and their independence of mind.
Manneken Pis is an approximate five minutes' walk from the Grand Place (Brussels' main square), at the junction of the Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat and the pedestrian Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat. This site is served by the premetro (underground tram) station Bourse/Beurs (on lines 3 and 4), as well as the bus stops Grand Place/Grote Markt and Cesar de Paepe.
The original name of the statue was Menneke Pis or Menneke Pist. In fact, in the Brabantian dialect of Brussels (known as Brussels, and also sometimes called Marols), een manneke means a small man, whereas een menneke means a little boy (it is the diminutive of men, meaning boy), though in modern Flemish, menneke also means a small man (it is synonymous to mannetje).
Manneken Pis is sometimes given the nickname of Petit Julien in French or Julianske in Dutch (both meaning "Little Julien"), which in fact refers to a now-disappeared fountain of the "Little Julien" (Juliaenkensborre). This stems from a confusion by the historians Alexandre Henne and Alphonse Wauters, who mistook the two well-distinct fountains because of their proximity.
Origins of Manneken Pis
The earliest mention of the existence of Manneken Pis can be found in an administrative document, dating from 1451–52, about the water lines supplying the fountains of Brussels.[a] From the beginning, the fountain played an essential role in the distribution of drinking water. It stood on a column and poured water into a double rectangular basin of stone. The only representations of this first statue can be found, very schematically, on a map by the cartographers Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg, in which the fountain appeared to be installed directly on the street and not on a corner as it is today; it was depicted again in a painting from 1616 by the court painters Denis Van Alsloot and Antoon Sallaert representing Brussels' Ommegang of 1615, as well as in a preparatory drawing to this painting, in which Manneken Pis is dressed as a shepherd.
The first statue was replaced by a new bronze version, commissioned in 1619 by Brussels' city council. This 61-centimetre-tall (24 in) bronze statue, on the corner of the Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and the Rue des Grands Carmes/Lievevrouwbroerstraat, was conceived by Brussels' sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder (1570–1641), father of the architect and sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger and the famous sculptor François Duquesnoy. It was probably cast and installed in 1620.[b] During that time, the column supporting the statue and the double rectangular basin collecting water were completely remodelled by the stone cutter Daniel Raessens.
During its history, Manneken Pis faced many hazards. It survived undamaged the bombardment of Brussels of 1695 by the French army, but the pipes having been affected, it could not deliver its water for some time. A pamphlet published the same year recounts this episode. This text is the oldest attesting that Manneken Pis had become "an object of glory appreciated by all and renowned throughout the world". It is also the first time that it served as a symbol for the people of Brussels. It is also traditionally said that after the bombardment, it was triumphantly placed again on its pedestal. On that occasion, the following passage from the Bible was inscribed above its head : In petra exaltavit me, et nunc exaltavi caput meum super inimicos meos ("The Lord placed me on a stone base, and now I raise my head above my enemies").
As shown by an engraving by Jacobus Harrewijn, dating from 1697, the fountain was no longer located on the street, but in a recess at the corner of the Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat and the Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and was protected by a gate. In 1770, the column and the double rectangular basin disappeared; the statue was integrated into a new decor, in the form of a stone niche in rockery style, originating from another dismantled fountain of Brussels. The water simply flowed through a grating in the ground, which was replaced by a basin in the 19th century. In its new setting, Manneken Pis gives the impression of being smaller than in its original layout.
The whole structure is protected by railings, the last version of which dates from 1851. The latter prevented access to water, relegating the fountain to a decorative and symbolic role. It is also the case, around the same time, of the other fountains in Brussels. This correlates with efforts by the City of Brussels, starting in 1855, to allow for the distribution of drinking water in homes.
The figure has repeatedly been the object of theft or attempted theft. Legend has it that the statue was removed in 1745 and found in the Flemish town of Geraardsbergen (French: Grammont). As a sign of their appreciation, the people of Brussels gave this city a replica of the statue. In reality, the first attempted theft was made in 1747 by a group of French grenadiers stationed in Brussels. The population rebelled against this deed and threatened a bloody revenge. To calm things down, the King of France, Louis XV, offered a gentleman's gown of brocade, embroidered with gold, to Manneken Pis. He also authorised the statue to carry the sword, and decorated it with the Cross of St. Louis.
The statue was stolen in 1817 by the fugitive Antoine Licas. The perpetrator was heavily punished; he was condemned to forced labour for life, and was first tied for an hour to stocks on the Grand Place. The original statue was broken into 11 pieces during this abduction and was restored by a specialised welder, under the supervision of sculptor Gilles-Lambert Godecharle. The pieces were matched and used to make a mould in which the bronze statue was poured. The statue was then screwed onto a new base marked "1620 – REST 1817".
Manneken Pis experienced similar misadventures in the 20th century. Two attempted thefts occurred in 1955 and 1957. Some accounts say that it has been stolen up to seven times; in January 1963 by students of the Antwerp student's association "De Wikings" of the Sint-Ignatius Handelshogeschool (Higher Business Education), now part of the Antwerp University, who "hijacked" the statue for five days before handing it over to the Antwerp authorities. The local and international press covered the story, contributing to the students' collection of funds donated to two orphanages. The case did go further, however, and the base was replaced identically by La Compagnie des Bronzes, to which the statue was anchored by a reinforced bronze attachment.
Things were more serious when it disappeared in 1965; the statue had been broken by the thief and only the feet and ankles remained. In June 1966, the Antwerp magazine De Post received an anonymous phone call, signaling that the body was in the Charleroi Canal. It was found there by divers, sent by the magazine, and was brought back to Brussels on 27 June. Restored once again, the statue was sheltered and the original version is now kept and displayed on the second floor of the Brussels City Museum, at the Maison du Roi/Broodhuis, on the Grand Place. In the meantime, a replica of the statue had already been commissioned by Brussels' authorities and cast by La Compagnie des Bronzes. The new statue was thus installed in place of the old one and this version still adorns the niche on the Rue du Chêne to this day.
In late 2018, it was discovered by city technician Régis Callens that the basin of the statue had developed a leak, leading to a reported 1,000–1,500 litres (220–330 imp gal; 260–400 US gal) of water being used per day. The leak occurred for an unknown number of years, unnoticed among the several hundred water features in the City of Brussels and was only later discovered with the help of Shayp water monitoring technology. The statue received a temporary fix in March 2019, with a permanent recirculating system set to be installed. The solution was announced during Brussels Water Week where city officials cited the situation as motivation to check for similar problems in other fountains.
There are several legends behind Manneken Pis, but the most famous is one involving Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-Over-Heembeek, a northern part of the City of Brussels). To give themselves courage, the soldiers placed the infant lord in a basket which they hung from a large oak tree overlooking the battlefield. While his men were in dire straits, the little duke rose up in the basket, and from his perch, urinated onto the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle. The fountain perpetuates the memory of this victory. The name of the Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat ("Oak Tree Street"), at the corner of which the statue is located, recalls the famous tree.
- Another legend suggests that, in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them, as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was, at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388), a similar statue made of stone. The statue was stolen several times.
- Another story tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party, which scoured all corners of the city, until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.
- Another legend tells that a small boy went missing from his mother, when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A citywide search began, and when at last the child was found, he was urinating on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue was erected as a tribute to the well-known legend.
- Another legend tells of the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine. In the end, this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.
Costumes and folklore
Manneken Pis is dressed in costumes, several times each week, according to a published schedule, which is posted on the railings around the fountain. Since 1954, the costumes are managed by the non-profit association The Friends of Manneken-Pis, who review hundreds of designs submitted each year, and select a small number to be produced and used. His wardrobe consists of around one thousand different costumes, many of which could previously be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum, located on the Grand Place, immediately opposite the Town Hall. In February 2017, a specially designed museum, at 19, rue du Chêne/Eikstraat, called Garderobe MannekenPis, opened its doors.
Although the proliferation of costumes is of 20th-century origin, the occasional use of costumes dates back almost to the date of casting; the oldest costume on display, in the City Museum, being of 17th-century origin. In 1756, an inventory indicates that Manneken Pis had five complete costumes. From 1918 to 1940, he was offered some thirty costumes. But it was especially after 1945 that the movement took on an exceptional dimension; he had more than 400 costumes in 1994, more than 750 in 2005, and more than 950 in 2016.
The costume change on the figure is a colourful ceremony, often accompanied by brass band music. Many costumes represent the national dress of nations whose citizens come to Brussels as tourists; others are the uniforms of assorted trades, professions, associations, and branches of the civil and military services. As well as historical clothing, the wardrobe also contains modern costumes, such as ones of Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus.
On certain folkloric occasions (e.g. Saint-Verhaegen, Meyboom plantation), the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer. Cups are filled up with the beer flowing from the statue and given out to passers-by.
Manneken Pis dressed as Dracula (15 March 2002)
Manneken Pis in judo attire (2008)
Replica of the outfit offered by Maximilien Emanuel of Bavaria in 1697 (2009)
Replicas and similar statues
Although Brussels' Manneken Pis is the best known, others exist all across the country. As early as the 17th century, the statue was the subject of decorative replicas. The Brussels City Museum exhibits a copy which was crafted by Jacques Van den Broeck in 1630, probably from a cast of Duquesnoy's statue. Another local copy, from 1636, currently in a private American collection, is attributed to the German founder Daniel Haneman. Similar statues can also be found in the Flemish cities of Koksijde, Hasselt, Ghent, and Bruges, as well as in the Walloon municipality of Braine-l'Alleud (where it is called El Gamin Quipiche, meaning "The Peeing Kid" in Walloon).
Feud with Geraardsbergen
There is an ongoing dispute over which Manneken Pis is the oldest; the one in Brussels or the one in Geraardsbergen. According to tradition, Geraardsbergen was in a rebuilding phase after the devastating passage of Jean II de Croÿ's troops in the spring of 1452, during a war opposing the city of Ghent and the Burgundian duke Philip the Good. On that occasion, the spout from one of the city's fountains, in the shape of a copper lion's head, was taken by the people of Ghent. The aldermen of Geraardsbergen thus had their own Manneken Pis made in 1459 to replace it. The statue was cast in brass by Reinier Van Tienen, based on a model designed by Gillis Vander Jeught.
It can be assumed that the first version of Brussels' Manneken Pis, dating from before 1451, served as inspiration to Geraardsbergen's statue. Looking at the age of the current statues, both of them are replicas; the one in Brussels dating from 1965 and the one in Geraardsbergen from 1985. The design of Geraarsbergen's original statue, however, which dates from 1459, is anterior to that of Duquesnoy's statue, dating from 1619. It is on this basis that Geraardsbergen asserts that its Manneken Pis is the oldest, but since there was probably already a Manneken Pis in 1452 in Brussels, the tradition might thus be slightly older there.
Since the 20th century, numerous copies or imitations of Manneken Pis have been created abroad. It is necessary to distinguish the official copies offered by the City of Brussels from copies and imitations carried out privately by admirers of the little statue. Official copies were offered to:
- Colmar, France (1921)
- Osaka, Japan (1928)
- Monaco (1951)
- London, United Kingdom (1959)
- Broxeele, France (1979)
- Benalmadena, Spain (1991)
- Nagoya, Japan (2015)
A replica of Manneken Pis has pride of place in the lobby of the police station of Poitiers, France, commemorating the fact that this city was, for 26 days, the seat of the Belgian government during World War II. Similar copies of the statue exist in the Danish town of Bogense, as well as in Chiayi Park in Taiwan. Another working replica stands on the platform of Tokyo's Hamamatsuchō Station. There, the statue is a great source of pride for station workers who dress it in various costumes—traditional and otherwise—at different times of year.
In September 2002, a Belgian-born waffle-maker set up a replica in front of his waffle stand in the Orlando Fashion Square mall, in Orlando, Florida. He recalled the legend as "the boy who saved Brussels from fire by extinguishing it with his urine" (confusing the legend with an incident in Gulliver's Travels perhaps). Some shocked shoppers made a formal complaint. Mall officials said that the waffle-shop owner did not follow procedures when he put up the statue and was therefore in violation of his lease.
In contrast, there is a similar statue in Rio de Janeiro, in front of the quarters of Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas, a famous Brazilian football club. There, the presence of the statue is taken lightly, and it has even been adopted as a mascot by the club. Fans usually dress it with the club's jersey, after important wins.
Statues inspired by Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis is not the only peeing statue in Brussels. Since 1987, it has had a female equivalent, Jeanneke Pis, located on the east side of a small alley called Impasse de la Fidélité/Getrouwheidsgang, near the Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat, representing a little girl squatting in the act of urinating. It feeds a small fountain. It is, however, less illustrious than its masculine counterpart.
Het Zinneke, sometimes called Zinneke Pis, depicting a dog urinating against a marker, can be seen as a reference to Manneken Pis. It is, however, not associated with a fountain. Zinneke means bastard in Brussels' dialect.
In popular culture
- Manneken Pis is granted a humorous tribute in the comic album Asterix in Belgium. For Asterix-related events taking place in Brussels, the sculpture has also been clad in Asterix's trademark garments.
- The 1968 film The Party, starring Peter Sellers, includes a reproduction of the statue in the house's extended water feature. The statue's peeing can be changed at an extended intercom panel, and Sellers, as Hrundi V. Bakshi, soaks a guest when he hits the wrong button.
- In the 1986 film The Money Pit, the lead character, Walter Fielding, played by Tom Hanks, accidentally falls in a construction area where workers are renovating his home. In a sequence reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine, he stumbles through a window, across the roof, down a scaffold, finally into a wheeled bin in which he rolls down a hill and is dumped into a fountain resting directly under a replica of Manneken Pis.
- Manneken Pis is a 1995 Belgian comedy-drama film, directed by Frank Van Passel and written by Christophe Dirickx. It premiered in May 1995 at the Cannes Film Festival. It received the André Cavens Award for Best Film and four awards at the Joseph Plateau Awards. The film was selected as the Belgian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 68th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.
- A promotional expansion for the board game 7 Wonders allows a player to build Manneken Pis as an eighth wonder of the world.
- In 2019, under pressure from owner Hasbro, the Brussels edition of the Monopoly board game censored Manneken Pis with swimming trunks.
- Manneken Pis is featured in the 2021 party video game WarioWare: Get It Together! in a microgame titled Manneken Pis where the player must use the statue to douse flames.
- The text mentions daer dmenneken pist in Old Dutch, meaning "where the child pees".
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- This costume was gifted by the Association des Descendants des Lignages de Bruxelles
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Manneken Pis van Brussel.|
- manneken-pis.be, Manneken Pis website
- Brussels.be, Official website with calendar of costume changes
- Ilotsacre.be, Manneken Pis: virtual visit, pictures and costumes
- VisitOnWeb.com, Manneken Pis in 360 degrees
- Manneken Pis on BALaT - Belgian Art Links and Tools (KIK-IRPA, Brussels)