In 1957, Picasso started an extended series of variations on Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas 1656. The series is both a confrontation with one of the most important works in the history of Spanish painting as well as a commentary on contemporary events in Spain, observed by Picasso from his exile in France. It was painted twenty years after Guernica and continues the political protest of this earlier painting against the treatment of Spanish Republicans in Spain. At the time he began the series, Picasso was involved in the Amnesty for Spain campaign to free Spanish Republicans still imprisoned eighteen years after the end of the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso’s Las Meninas are a bitter satire, revealing Franco’s careful and cynical orchestration of his image in the grand tradition of Philip II of Spain (1527–1598), the great Habsburg King. In these works, Picasso transforms the original meaning of the Velázquez into a cruel indictment of Franco’s dictatorship and his royalist aspirations (to be succeeded by a member of the Spanish Monarchy): ceiling bosses become grotesque hooks for the suspension of torture victims, and the painter becomes a figure from the Inquisition. The maid in the foreground has Franco’s moustache. The many variations on the figure of the Infanta make pointed reference tothe traditional Royalist ‘coming out’ of Don Juan’s daughter, the Infanta Maria Pilar, that took place in October 1954 at the Hotel Parque in Estoril, Portugal, where a spectacular ball was held.