Public Art Around The World

More Than Just The Plaque

Manneken Pis Statue

Manneken Pis

Public Art: Manneken Pis (meaning little man wee) 

Nicknames of Manneken Pis: ‘Pee Pee Boy’, ‘Little Julian’

Sculptor: © Jerome Duquesnoy

Date: 1619

Description: Deceptively small 2ft (61cm) tall bronze statue of a little boy perched on top of a curved ledge, urinating into a fountain. Originally Manneken Pis was perched on a 6ft column which was built on request by Daniel Raessens, in 1619.

Location: The little boy statue relieving himself into a fountain can be a bit of a struggle finding in the back streets of Brussels. Mannekin Pis can be easily overlooked as it is deceptively small, considering how popular and revered he is. It has the same effect as when you first glimpse the Little Mermaid in Denmark’s harbour and realise it isn’t that big! 
Corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue Chenet, Brussels, Belgium.

The Numerous Legends of Mannekin Pis: Mannekin Pis is believed to have been erected in honour of a little boy who saved Brussels. How he actually came to save the city is open to debate, but there are countless stories to amuse the curious. Here are just a few …

Duke Godfrey III of Leuven: Duke Godfrey III of Leuven was merely two years of age when in 1142 he became count of Leuven (or Louvain), Landgrave of Brabant, Margrave of Antwerp, and Duke of Lower Lorraine. It wasn’t surprising that other lords saw it as a great opportunity to overthrow the infant Duke and seize the land. In 1142 the troops of  Berthouts, lords of Grimbergen, tried their luck but were thwarted in their attempt. The Duke’s troops placed the infant in a basket hanging from a tree and it was from there the young boy urinated on the enemy. Years later when the Duke was 19 he had further revenge on the Berthouts by burning down their impressive motte at Grimbergen.

Julianske: In this tale a young boy by the name Julianske had spied foreign enemies placing explosives around the city of walls of Brussels so he urinated on the burning wicks, saving the city from certain destruction.

The Wealthy Merchant: A popular tale told to many a tourist, was that centuries ago the little boy of a wealthy merchant went missing in the city. His distraught father organised a search party to look high and low for him and they found him happily peeing in a garden. For his gratitude, the merchant had the statue and fountain erected as a gift to the locals for helping find his precious son.

Lost Child: A variation of the Wealthy Merchant story where a woman loses her child in the city and calls upon the townsfolk to help find him (including the mayor). The child is eventually found peeing in the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over the years and eventually a statue erected.

The King’s Castle: A young boy awoke to the smell of smoke. After locating the fire he urinated on the flames saving the king’s castle from burning to the ground.

History of the Mannekin Pis statue: The Manneken Pis statue you see today isn’t the original. The original was made of stone and erected in 1388 but was destroyed sometime later. However,  the City of Brussels commissioned  Franco-Flemish Baroque sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy to build another one in bronze. And so he did in around 1618. But don’t be fooled though, this statue is really a fake too. The Duquesnoy statue resides at Maison du Roi (King’s House) and has since 1965.

How Many Times Has Mannekin Pis Been Stolen? : Okay from all accounts Manneken Pis has been stolen a total of 7 times. The first known time was in 1695 when Marechal de Villeroy attacked Brussels. It was later found on the steps of a brothel. French soldiers stole it in 1747. An ex-prisoner, Antoine Lycas stole it in 1817, damaging the statue. He was caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sculptor Godecharle was given the job to repair it. The last time it was stolen was by students from the village of Broxeele in France.

Controversy: Some believe that the Manneken Pis statue in Brussels is not the oldest. A statue in Geraardsbergen, a few miles from the capital city, is thought to have been created in 1459. The Geraardsbergen Manneken Pis can be found in the town square, but you have to look a little harder to find it because there is no crowd around this one. 

Manneken Pis Trivia: The statue has over 600 costumes. Some of the outfits include Elvis, a samurai and even Mozart.

The first person to donate a costume was none other than King Louis XV of France in 1747.

Elizabeth Taylor is believed to have donated a costume.

There is a replica Mannekin Pis statue at Hamamatsuchō Station in Japan.

Did you know there is a female counterpart called Jeanneke Pis located nearby and depicts a little girls squatting and urinating!

Bad Taste Souvenirs: This little statue has been exploited to the masses for years. The worst of the pick would have to be the whiskey dispenser (guess where it pours out from ?), corkscrew, and wait for it, lollipop (I kid you not). 

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