ArtOdysseys: The Funny Faces of Manneken Pis in Brussels, Belgium
|Our "Little Man Pee" or Manneken Pis in Brussels, Belgium, has become one of the most famous sights in the city. Photo: WikiMedia.org.
Welcome to the ArtSmart Roundtable—a company of travel writers who share a passion for appreciating art while traveling to destinations around the world. Today's April Fool's Day so we thought this month's post should be about "humor" and I couldn’t resist a certain plucky little statue that has become quite an iconic tourist sight in Brussels, Belgium—Manneken Pis! Steeped in the history of Brussels, the Manneken Pis or "Little Man Pee," a symbol of Brussels today, has been standing here happily peeing into his fountain for centuries and literally draws crowds everyday with his unique character which changes daily to reflect the mood of the city—sometimes quite the hilarious sight! I hope you enjoy the post and be sure to scroll to the bottom of the article for links to my fellow Roundtable colleagues.
|Manneken Pis is dressed as a chocolatier today. Photo: Paul Wittal.
One of the obligatory sights as well as Kodak moments when visiting Brussels is with this famous little statue on the corner of rue de l'Étuve / Stoofstraat and rue du Chêne/Eikstraat—Manneken Pis. With roots dating back to 1388 when a statue known as Julianekensborre or "Small Julien" stood here, Manneken Pis didn't acquire his name until 1451 when it appeared in the city's records for the first time. Commissioned by the city of Brussels, our little peeing man was cast in bronze in 1619 by sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy, father to the renowned Roman sculptor Francois Duquesnoy whose Saint Andrew statue stands in the transept of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. He stands at 61 cm or 2 feet tall and until 1770, stood atop a 6-foot pedestal which was removed when the rococo niche we see him in today was added. Due to a history plagued with theft, today's bronze statue is a copy but don't worry, you can still see the original protected within the Maison du Roi / Broodhuis (King's House / Bread house) on the Grand Place.
|Our little Belgian Casanova is dressed to impress. Photo: Su-Lin.
Among the multitude of urban legends surrounding our Little Man Pee, these three are the most interesting:
Probably the most famous legend dates back to a 12th-century battle of the 2-year-old Duke Godfrey III of Leuven whose military troops were engaged in battle with the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen in Neder-Over-Heembeek. To inspire and encourage the Duke's troops, a company of them placed the infant Duke into a basket and suspended him from a tree from which he urinated on the Berthouts who eventually lost the battle.
A second legend dates even further back to an eighth-century bishop of Arras, Vindicien, who while visiting Brussels met a landlord who explained that his wife could not bear children. Upon hearing his story, the bishop promised he would consult with God on his behalf. As it turns out, nine months later, the landlord's wife gave birth and when Bishop Arras went to visit, the infant peed so high that it drenched his beard. That's when the bishop exclaimed "Manneken Pis."
Yet another legend from the 14th century regales of a time when Brussels was under attack by foreign forces that were plotting to install and detonate explosive charges at the city's walls. A little boy named Julianske, hence Julianekensborre or Small Julien mentioned above, proceeded to pee on the burning fuses and rescued the city from peril.
The Many Funny Faces of Mannekis Pis
|Manneken Pis is in full Peruvian regalia to celebrate a Peruvian festival. Photo by John and Mel Kots.
An intercontinental citizen of the world, the Manneken Pis keeps his you-know-what on the pulse of the city of Belgium by donning suitable attire for occasion of the day. His personality reflects Brussels' state of mind through clever and sometimes absolutely hilarious costumes paying tribute to tradesman, celebrities, branches of the military, nations of the world, holidays and special events.
|To celebrate America's Fourth of July, Manneken Pis appears as our beloved Uncle Sam. Photo: WikiMedia.org.
He's been dressed as the President of the European Union and Nelson Mandela, Elvis and Mozart, any number of local artisans, Tibetan monks, traditional attire worn in countries around the world to celebrate their national holidays including Uncle Sam and Christopher Columbus, and even Sinterklaas and Père Noël—among countless others. To date, he has amassed more than 800 wardrobes for just about every event, holiday, season, culture, etc.
His "identity crisis" actually dates back to 1698 when Maixmilien-Emaunel, Prince Elector of Bavaria offered up a "Bavarian-blue" outfit and from that moment on, he has been bestowed with countless outfits by visiting dignitaries, royalty, presidents, the city, etc. and even the public is invited to submit ideas, some of which become one of Manneken Pis' alter egos! Here's an awesome site with a virtual 360-degree tour of the Manneken Pis as well as history and plenty of photographs of his various outfits throughout the year.
|Here Little Man Pee is dressed for the 28th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival. Photo: La Ezwa.
|During the Saint Verhaegen celebrations, Belgian beer flows from our recently graduated Manneken Pis. Photo: Gilderic Photography.
One of the local traditions that really stands above the rest takes place each year during the Saint Verhaegen celebrations in which beer flows from our recently graduated Manneken Pis. Students in full university regalia form a procession through the music-filled streets while filling their cups with Belgian beer and celebrating. It's a party and everyone's invited!
Meet the Pis Family
|A modern addition to the Belgian peeing tradition is the Jeanneke Pis, a stone statue of a little girl joyfully squatting to pee. It was installed in the city of Brussels in 1987. Photo: James Cridland.
The Pis family is growing! Yes, two additional peeing statues join Manneken Pis' family, a little girl and their dog. What is it about Belgium? ; ) Appropriately named "Jeanneke Pis," this statue of a little girl joyfully squatting to pee is a modern addition to the city of Brussels only having been added in 1987. Denis-Adrien Debouvrie carved Jeanneke Pis from blue-gray limestone in 1985 and installed her in 1987. Joyfully squatting at less than 2 feet tall, Jeanneke Pis can be found on the east side of the Impasse de la Fidélité / Getrouwheidsgang (Fidelity Alley) just north of the rue des Bouchers / Beenhouwersstraat. While not as popular as her male counterpart, dear Jeanneke is gaining favor with residents and tourists alike.
|The Zinneke Pis is the peeing dog statue, actually a cute little guy who was added in 1998 to join the Pis Family. Photo: WikiMedia.org.
Finally, one more peeing statue makes an appearance—Zinneke Pis, a little bronze dog peeing on a nearby post. You can visit this little guy at the corner rue des Chartreux and rue du Vieux-Marché. Translated, Zinneke means "bastard" but that's such a harsh name for this adorable little guy, in my humble opinion. Little Zinneke joined his Pis family nearly a decade later than Jeanneke Pis in 1998. What family would be complete without a beloved loyal companion like Zinneke.
So the next time you're in Brussels, be sure to seek out our peeing statues and have fun!