A Manneken Pis Museum -The GardeRobe
If you’ve ever been to Brussels, you’ve probably gone to see Manneken Pis. This iconic statue of a peeing boy is symbolic of Brussels and can be found in hundreds of souvenir form variations. Perhaps when you’ve gone to see Manneken Pis you’ve seen him naked. Most days he is. But 130 days of the year, he is dressed in elaborate costume and now you can see many of these costumes in the GardeRobe Museum just up the street from the statue.
The museum is only one room, but it is packed with colorful costumes from all over the world. The oldest costume is this one (a replica), given by King Louis XV of France in 1747.
But there are so many different nationalities represented in the collection: Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, England, the US, Vietnam, etc. In addition, there are costumes depicting different professions, famous people, and regions of Belgium. The variety and intricacy were amazing!
When you look up close, you can see all the detail involved. Especially in costumes such as this one from Bolivia:
Or this one representing the Sioux Nation in the U.S., and the one beside it, from Romania:
Another unique one represents Amnesty International:
What am I saying? They’re ALL unique! More unique than you’d realize, actually.
Designing a costume for Manneken Pis requires several considerations. For one, his proportions are not those of a real boy, so it’s not as though one could alter a costume that already exists. Plus, the costumes need to allow for the stream of water that will come from his pee-hole. I thought the Elvis Presley costume did a nice job of this:
The other consideration is that the clothes have to be able to be manipulated onto a mounted statue. That means the costumes need to have cut-outs in the back so that the Official Dresser can put them on. Manneken Pis’ feet are mounted to a base and his arms are fixed to his waist. It’s not as simple as dressing a doll.
I was fortunate to be at the statue one morning when the Official Dresser was there! In all my trips to Brussels, I have never been lucky enough to see the dressing happen. I’d always figured that it must be done in the middle of the night, but no — I watched it occur around 9:30 on a Sunday morning.
Dressing Manneken Pis
Since 1756 there has been an Official Dresser to Manneken Pis. My friend asked the man dressing Manneken Pis that day how he got the job.
“My boss asked me to do it,” he said simply.
I’m not sure he understood what we were asking. We’d been curious whether he had some tie to the prestigious position, or a degree in art history or something that made him more qualified than the average Joe. But it didn’t seem so. The only real requirement I could find is that the position is held by a municipal public servant.
Before he started to dress the statue, he had to first turn off the fountain and unchain the stepladder tucked away beside the ornate iron fencing. He then fitted the costume to the small peeing boy. The costume he was dressed in that day was a Butcher’s costume, which was complete with a small knife set tucked into the butcher’s apron.
He made a few minor tweaks, took a few pictures up close, then climbed down and turned the water back on. Little Manneken Pis was free to pee again!
I visit Manneken Pis every time I travel to Brussels. More often than not, he’s naked. But sometimes I’m there for a special occasion, such as the 4th of July when he is dressed up like Uncle Sam.
The GardeRobe Museum
None of us will probably ever have the chance to see all the costumes, which is why I loved visiting the new GardeRobe Museum. Not only can you see many of the costumes displayed there, but you can also learn more about their origins, the statement they hope to make, and who designed them.
There’s also an interactive display in which you can choose to see all the different costumes grouped by theme or nationality. Not all of the costumes have survived the tests of time and exposure to the elements, so seeing them this way is a treat.
Visiting the statue is almost a must when you’re in Brussels. Depictions of Manneken Pis are all over the place and on thousands of souvenirs. Because he’s so popular, I think many visitors who stop by the statue are surprised, and maybe a little disappointed, to see how small he really is. But once you think about all the intricacies that go into creating this legendary little peeing boy who saved the city from being destroyed by fire and keeping him symbolic of such a significant city, I think you get a whole new appreciation for him.
What costume would you like to see him wearing?