Did you know there is one statue in the world that regularly gets dressed up? The Manneken Pis, one of Brussels’ best known symbols is the only statue that has its very own wardrobe, comprising of 1,094 different outfits.
1. “The little pissing man”
The 55.5 cm tall bronze statue was designed by Brabantine sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy l’Ancien in the 17th century, around 1618-1219, although the first mention of a fountain called Manneken-Pis dates back to 1451. The iconic little boy, pissing in the fountain’s basin, has been guarding the corner of Brussels’ Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Chêne since the 18th century.
The statue was stolen in 1965 and only found a year later in the Brussels-Charleroi Canal. After this, the city decided to place the original in the Brussels City Museum on the Grand Place and put a replica in its place at the fountain on the street.
There are different stories and legends trying to explain why this statue was erected. One of the stories says the statue was a gift to locals from a tourist who lost his little son in Brussels and later found him thanks to the help from villagers. The statue was placed in the corner where the boy was found. Another legend tells that the boy was a spy who attempted to bomb the city by urinating on some explosives. A third tale mentions a boy preventing a fire from destroying the city by peeing on a burning fuse before it exploded. To manifest their gratitude, the locals made a statue in his likeness.
2. First costume and dressing tradition
In the past, Brussels authorities or governors generally donated outfits for particular festivities. The little boy was gifted his first costume on 1 May 1698 by the governor of the Austrian Netherlands Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria. He ordered a costume for the statue on the occasion of one of Brussels’ guilds festivities.
Following the First World War, many donors came forward with an outfit, including veterans’ associations. Between 1919 and 1940, Manneken-Pis received one new outfit each year. After World War II, the statue’s wardrobe grew on average by 5 to 15 per year. And by the 1980’s, the number of costumes rose to 25.
Nowadays, around 20 to 30 new outfits are added on an annual basis.
To donate a garment to Manneken Pis, an official request must be sent to the College of Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Brussels. This request is then examined by a commission made up of representatives of the City of Brussels and members of the Friends of the Order of Manneken-Pis. Certain rules set out the conditions of acceptance, including not being allowed to display any reference of an advertising, commercial, political or religious nature or, when depicting associations, countries, regions, folk groups, historical groups, they must have existed for at least 10 years.
Designing a costume for Manekken Pis is not an easy task, considering his small size and that his hands and feet are attached to the statue. Moreover, they must of course include openings at the back, for the water pipe, and at the front for the little boy to be able to pee. Since 1945, an official pattern has been used to make new garments. It includes instructions on the materials to use and the pitfalls to avoid.
3. Wardrobe museum
The outfits are an integral part of the heritage of the City of Brussels. Each item is inventoried and preserved like a work of art. The GardeRobe MannekenPis Muesum is located just around the corner from the little statue and has around 140 outfits on display.
Whether a gift from an athlete or a designer on behalf of a fashion house, the cosrumes come from the four corners of the globe and are exhibited by theme, categorised by geographical location, designers, celebrities, trades, sports, folklore and carnivals, charities and citizen associations.
Due to conservation requirements, the museum only showcases part of the impressive collection at a time, regularly rotating the exhibition, so each visit is unique. When Manekken Pis receives a new outfit, after an official presentation and dressing at the fountain, the costume is added to the museum collection. It is placed in a display case until the next new attire arrives.
Between 9 and 11 July 2022, Manneken Pis was dressed as a Rolling Stones fan to celebrate the British rock band’s 60th anniversary. The 1,094th outfit in the statue’s wardrobe was donated by Pascal Van De Velde, director of the artistic agency Greenhouse Talent that organised the band’s concert on King Baudouin stadium on 11 July, the first concert Rolling Stones had in Brussels in 46 years.
The oldest garment in the museum’s collection was donated by King Louis XV. In 1747, his soldiers stole Manneken Pis. To make amends for this theft, the French king decided to offer an outfit to the statue. With this gesture, he acknowledged the significance of the little boy in the hearts of the residents of Brussels. He also declared Manneken Pis a knight of the Royal and Military Order of Saint-Louis, an honorary order that rewards the most valiant officers. Due to its fragile state, the original outfit is kept in storage, but an identical replica is on display.