History and museums
Manneken Pis ( ˌmɑnəkə(m) ˈpɪs , meaning "Little man Pee" in Dutch) is a landmark small bronze sculpture (61 cm) in Brussels, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain's basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619.
The famous statue is located at the junction of Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. To find it, one takes the left lane next to the Brussels Town Hall from the famous Grand Place and walks a few hundred metres southwest via Rue Charles Buls/Karel Bulsstraat.
The 61 cm tall bronze statue on the corner of Rue de l'Etuve and Rue des Grands Carmes was made in 1619 by Brussels sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy the Elder, father of the more famous François Duquesnoy. The figure has been repeatedly stolen: the current statue dates from 1965. The original restored version is kept at the Maison du Roi/Broodhuis on the Grand Place.
There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about 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). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Another legend states 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 (told often to tourists) 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 that 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 was 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 city-wide 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 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.
The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes, many of which may be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum, located in the Grand Place, immediately opposite the Town Hall. 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.
Although the proliferation of costumes is of twentieth-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 seventeenth-century origin. The changing of the costume 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.
On occasion, the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer. Cups will be filled up with the beer flowing from the statue and given out to people passing by.
The statue has been stolen seven times, the last time in January 1963, by students of the Antwerp student association "De Wikings" of the Sint-Ignatius Handelshogeschool (Higher Business Education), now part of the Antwerp University, who "hijacked" Manneken Pis 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.
There is also a statue of Manneken Pis in Tokushima, Japan, which was a present from the Belgian embassy (Tokushima being twinned with Brussels).
Since 1987, the Manneken has had a female equivalent, Jeanneke Pis, located on the east side of the Impasse de la Fidélité/Getrouwheidsgang.
Although the Manneken Pis in Brussels is the best-known, others exist. There is an ongoing dispute over which Manneken Pis is the oldest - the one in Brussels or the one in Geraardsbergen. Similar statues can also be found in the Belgian cities of Koksijde, Hasselt, Ghent, Bruges, in the town of Braine-l'Alleud (where it is called "Il Gamin Quipiche"), and in the French Flemish village of Broxeele, a town with the same etymology as Brussels. In Bali, Indonesia, there is a Belgian restaurant called Mannekepis. It even has the exact replica of the statue standing in front of the restaurant, urinating.
In many countries, replicas in brass or fiberglass are commonplace swimming or garden-pool decorations. Many copies exist worldwide as garden ornaments. Manneken Pis has also been adapted into such risqué souvenir items as ashtrays and corkscrews.
In September 2002, a Belgian-born waffle-maker in Florida, named Assayag, 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 football club from Brazil. 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.
A working replica of Manneken Pis stands on the platform of Hamamatsuchō Station in Tokyo, Japan. 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.
A promotional expansion for the board game 7 Wonders allows a player to build an eighth wonder of the world: Manneken-Pis. Manneken Pis is also the name of a book by Vladimir Radunsky.
The 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 the Manneken Pis.
The eponymous colony ship in Macross 7 has a park with what appears to be a parody of the original Manneken Pis statue.