Giuseppe Rocca learned his craft in Turin from Giovanni Francesco Pressenda, to whom he was apprenticed from 1834 to 1838. Rocca was making instruments independently by 1838, and by the mid-1840s he had departed almost entirely from Pressenda’s patterns, modelling his instruments after Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù.
The 1840s and 1850s are considered the pinnacle of Rocca’s career, and these years produced some superlative violins, both aesthetically and tonally. At some point he must have made the acquaintance of the collector Luigi Tarisio, who had acquired much of Count Cozio’s collection in 1827. It was through Tarisio that Rocca became acquainted with the ‘Messie’ Stradivari of 1716 and the ‘Alard’ Guarneri del Gesù of 1742, and he made numerous copies of both instruments. The 1852 ‘Messie’ copy is unusual in that it has a deep red varnish, no doubt an attempt to recreate some of the quality of the original. The 1850 violin is more typical of Rocca’s Stradivari copies and was undoubtedly given its antiqued look by the maker. Some of his instruments are made from a worm-infested plank said to have been taken from a bridge in Turin (see the back of the 1846 ‘Alard’ copy).
From 1851, Rocca commuted between Turin and Genoa, finally settling in Genoa in 1863. He seems to have had an extremely turbulent domestic life, apparently due to a love of drink, gambling and women. He was married five times and it has been suggested that his last wife, aged 18, may have driven him to his death by drowning in 1865.