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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Little Pissers

Manneken Pis is a very famous landmark in Brussels, Belgium.  The name is from the Dutch dialect Marols, spoken in Brussels, and means literally "little man pee". He is known as "le Petit Julien" in French.  The bronze fountain sculpture is of a little boy urinating.

The approximately two-foot sculpture was designed by Hieronimus Duquesnoy and was installed in the fountain in 1618 or 1619.  The original bronze is kept at the Maison du Roi (Broodhuis in Dutch), the site of a bakery in the 13th century, then an administrative hall, and now a museum.  This is because the statue has been stolen many times.  The current fountain statue is a copy that was made in 1965.

Het Broodhuis.  Image courtesy of this site

There are many legends told about the basis for the statue.  One is that the young two-year-old Duke Godefrey III of Leuven was placed in a basket and hung in a tree when his troops were at battle in 1142.  He urinated on the opposing troops, who then lost the battle.  A similar story is from the 14th century when Brussels was under siege.  A young boy spied on the attackers as they placed explosives at the city walls.  He then peed on the lit fuses, saving the city.

Dressed in an orange costume to reflect Belgian pride.

Two similar tales are about a lost little boy.  In the first, a rich merchant and his family were visiting Brussels when his little boy got lost.  The locals formed a search party and eventually found him urinating in a garden.  The grateful merchant had the fountain built.  The second features a mother who went shopping and lost her little boy.  Frantic, she insisted on getting a city-wide search underway and he was found urinating at a street corner.  The story was passed on until commemorated by the fountain.

In a martial arts costume.

Yet another legend tells of a young boy awakened by a fire, who urinated on it thus saving the king's castle.  Reminiscent of the little Dutch boy who put his finger in a dyke, another story has the little boy inserting his penis into a dam with a hole in it, again saving the city.

Dressed as Santa.

So popular is this little guy, that several times a week he is dressed in costume. The schedule of his wardrobe changes are posted on railings around the fountain, and his hundreds of costumes are permanently displayed in the City Museum. Although the oldest costume in the collection is from the 17th century, establishing the ritual as an old custom, today the young man has become quite the "fashionisto".  His hundreds of costumes are managed by "The Friends of Manneken-Pis", who also select several new designs to be made each year.  The changing of costumes is a ceremony accompanied by a brass band.  Occasionally the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer, and cups are given to passersby.

There are similar statues elsewhere in the world.  There is a contender for an older one from Geraardsbergen, also in Belgium.  Tokushima, Japan, which is a sister city of Brussels, was given one by the Belgian embassy.  There is an exact replica in front of a restaurant in Bali.  The figure has been replicated so many times that it is a well-known piece available at many garden and fountain centers in a variety of materials.

A Japanese version on the platform of the Hamamatsucho station in Tokyo.

In the interest of equality, Denis-Adrien Debouvrie created a female counterpart. She is in an obscure cul-de-sac in Brussels, and is known as Jeanneke Pis.  She was created in 1985, and erected in 1987.  A little under a meter tall, she is virtually unknown.

Jeanneke Pis.  Image courtesy of this site.

So here's to children and nature and natural acts.  May the statues urinate for centuries to come!

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

1 comment:

  1. Het Zinneke, sometimes wrongly called Zinneke Pis, is a statue in Brussels erected in 1998. Created by Tom Frantzen, it represents a urinating dog, along the same lines as the Manneken Pis and the Jeanneke Pis.