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Travel

Clothes maketh the Manneken

Brussels' famous Manneken Pis statue has been cheekily urinating into its Baroque fountain for 400 years, and for about as long, fans around the world have dressed up the naked little boy in colourful costumes.

A new museum in the Belgian capital showcases the outfits, some dating hundreds of years old, worn by the bronze little boy taking a very public leak and snapped in selfies alongside millions of tourists. Curator Catherine Gauthier told that the around 60 centimetre-tall (23-inch) statue, just off Brussels' Grand Place, won a place in people's hearts from the start.

Manneken Pis im neuen Museum (picture alliance/dpa/S. Gremmel)

GardeRobe Manneken Pis Museum in Brussels

Dressing it up soon became a tradition, not so much for modesty's sake but as a way of affirming a connection with the city at a time of bloody conflict and upheaval across Europe. The "oldest illustration of a costumed Manneken Pis appears in a painting of 1615 while the earliest outfit we have goes back to 1747," Gauthier said. The 1615 painting shows him as a shepherd boy in a white-spotted red cap and blue coat, wearing boots and surrounded by sheep, while urinating with great force and accuracy into a fountain. 

The current Manneken Pis originates from 1619 when the Brussels authorities asked sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy to make a statue of a small boy urinating who, according to one of many legends, put out a fire caused by besieging troops, saving the city. "The Manneken Pis, however, is the only secular statue in the world to have such a wardrobe, with some 965 individual costumes," Gauthier added.

He is dressed about 130 times a year in different old or new outfits often donated by organisations or embassies to mark a special occasion or event, such as the death of Nelson Mandela or the start of football's World Cup. His costume for Gay Pride was made by French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier; other outfits are crafted by his "official tailor". Some of the costumes are "of exceptional quality", Gauthier noted. "The Manneken Pis is a statue and so it is no easy task to get clothes on him - you need a whole system of ties and velcro stickers so they stay on!" she said, adding the little boy had his own official dresser.

Among the 130 on display, her favourite is a blue and gold dress suit, complete with the medal of the Order of Saint Louis, given by France's King Louis XV in 1747.

is/ks (afp)