Marten van Meytens the Younger was born in Stockholm in 1695 to a Dutch portrait painter from The Hague who had moved to Sweden in 1677. Having trained initially under his father, Meytens set out in 1714 for some sixteen years of itinerant study and work in major European centers, including London, Paris, Dresden, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Florence. He quickly became a preferred portraitist of royalty and the nobility. About 1730 Meytens settled in Vienna, where he had already forged connections with Emperor Charles VI several years earlier, and he remained there until his death in 1770. He achieved greatest renown during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, his most important patron. A major figure in Vienna’s artistic scene, Meytens headed a large workshop and from 1759 onward served as director of the Imperial art academy.
The large, unsigned double portrait belonging to the Metropolitan Museum was attributed to Meytens on stylistic grounds after its acquisition in 1950. Although the painting is cited in early biographies of Meytens (see Leben Herrn Martin von Meytens 1768, p. 153; Gahm Persson 1784, p. 153; Lisholm 1974, pp. 110, 122), in modern times the sitters remained unidentified until Bruce Alan Brown (1997) recognized them as Count Giacomo Durazzo (1717–1794) and his wife, Ernestine Aloisia Ungnad von Weissenwolff (1732–1794). Brown noted the matching physiognomy in an engraved, half-length likeness of Durazzo made in 1765 by Jakob Schmutzer and Joseph Wagner after a painting by Meytens. The similarity in costume and pose in the engraving suggests that that representation of Durazzo was likely adapted from the Museum’s painting, which therefore must date earlier, probably before 1764, the year Durazzo moved from Vienna to Venice. Brown (1997, p. 164) proposed a date in the late 1750s or early 1760s, "consistent with the chronology of Durazzo’s rising status at [the Vienna] court and international renown." Another painted likeness of Count Durazzo in a private collection has been attributed to Meytens (see Sotheby’s, New York, January 24, 2008, no. 364).
Giacomo Durazzo, who hailed from Genoa, was court theater director in Vienna, Austrian ambassador to Venice, and a savvy print collector. His handing over of about a thousand works of art to Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen in 1776 formed the basis of the eponymous Albertina graphic art collection in Vienna. Count Durazzo married Weissenwolff, a famed beauty who was well-connected in Viennese society, in 1750.
Meytens depicted the couple as hunters in a woodland setting. They sit on the bank of a stream that cuts across the left foreground. The main colors of the costumes—red, white, blue, and gold—reflect the color schemes of both the Durazzo and Weissenwolff coats of arms (Leoncini in Genoa 2004, p. 348), and the three lilies among the flowers in Weissenwolff’s hair may refer to the three fleurs-de-lis in the Durazzo arms (Brown 1997, p. 166). The dog at the lower right guards the couple’s quarry of game birds, and the lapdog that is seated on Durazzo but tethered to a leash held by Weissenwolff may allude to the husband being "subservient in love" (Brown 1997, p. 161). The dual themes of the hunt and love were important in the artistic life of the count, who in 1755 had penned a libretto entitled The Amorous Huntresses (Le cacciatrici amanti), which concerns the goddess Diana and her retinue. It is the countess, however, who is documented as having closer connections to the hunt in practice, both as a skilled shooter and archer and as an enthusiastic falconer (Brown 1997, pp. 167–68).