Liotard made two sojourns to Vienna where he was a favored court portraitist. The first was from 1743 to 1745, and the second in 1762 when he made this exceptional (and unusually well-preserved) portrait of Count Wenzel Anton Kaunitz (1711-1794). Loche and Röthlisberger's 1978 catalogue mistakenly lists two versions of this portrait. They based this assumption on photographs of the work, which was indeed the same one in two different photographs. There is only the present version of the portrait.
Kaunitz was from a Bohemian noble family who went on to become a powerful advisor to the Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa and her sons and successors, the Emperors Joseph and Leopold. He began his career as an ambassador, first at Turin (1741) and later at the court of Versailles (1750-53) where he helped strengthen the Hapsburg-Bourbon alliance that would lead to the marriage of Maria Theresa's daughter, Marie-Antoinette to Louis XVI. As chancellor of state and minister of foreign affairs from 1753-92 he founded the Austrian Council of State, oversaw the War of Austrian Succession and subsequent peace at the Congress of Aachen.
Liotard first made Kaunitz's portrait when both men were in France in 1752 (Loche and Röthlisberger, op. cit., 1978, p. 102, no. 139). The present portrait, if it is the same one listed in a 1768 inventory, was commissioned in 1762 by Empress Maria Theresa for Kaunitz as a gift for his public service. In Descrizione completa di tutto ciò che ritrovasi nella galleria di pittura e scultura di S. A. Giuseppe Wenceslao...di Liechtenstein (Vienna, 1768) a portrait is described as follows: 'Ebbe subito la grazia d'aver udienza dalla sovrana [Maria Theresa], che gli ordinò un nuovo suo ritratto; questo compito ebbe la sorte di farne degli altri, non solo per l'augustissima casa, ma altresi per altri gran Signore come [...] per lo principe Kaunitz' (Loche and Röthlisberger, op. cit., 1978, p. 112). The portrait was commissioned before Maria Theresa made Kaunitz prince of the Empire by bestowing upon him the title of Count von Rittberg in 1764, but seemingly after he was awarded the Toison d'Or, as is evident from the jeweled insignia he is wearing.
Maria Theresa's commissioned portrait underlines the close relationship between her, the sitter and the artist. Liotard was not only a favored court portraitist who made many portraits of Maria Theresa and her family, but seems also to have been an intimate friend of the Empress indicated by the fact that she was made godmother to his daughter Marie-Thérèse in 1763. During the same period that he made Kaunitz's portrait he also executed a magnificent pastel on vellum of the Empress now in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva (exhib. cat., Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1702-1789, Geneva, 2006, 2nd ed., p. 67).