French architect, writer and archaeologist of German birth. In 1810 he left Cologne with his lifelong friend J. I. Hittorff for Paris, enrolling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1811 under the tutelage of the ardent Neo-classicists Louis-Hippolyte Lebas and François Debret. But from the beginning Gau was exposed to a wider field of historical sources, first as assistant site architect under Debret on the restoration of the abbey church of Saint-Denis (1813–15) and then from 1815 in Nazarene circles in Rome, where he met the archaeologist and philologist Barthold Nieburh (1776–1831), who arranged a scholarship for him from the Prussian government and a trip through the eastern Mediterranean. In Egypt Gau undertook an arduous trip down the Nile to visit and record the monuments of Nubia, which he published as the lavish folio Antiquités de la Nubie. He noted assiduously every trace of colour on the remains, just as he was to do in 1826 when he completed F. M. Mazois’s Ruines de Pompeii, findings that were to inspire the theoretical approaches of his pupils Gottfried Semper and Gottlieb Bindesbøll and to serve a fashionable Pompeiian taste in interior décor.
During the late 1820s and the 1830s Gau acquired diverse official posts in Paris. His major works, however, date from the last decade of his career: the transformation of Louis-Adrien Lusson’s Customs Hall in the Rue Cauchat, Paris, into the Protestant Eglise de la Rédemption (1842–3), and the design of the Gothic Revival church of Ste Clotilde (1845). Ste Clotilde rapidly became a cause célèbre of official recognition of the Gothic Revival in France and precipitated Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s rejection of the literal Gothic Revival. Although his buildings made little mark, Gau’s writings exerted considerable influence on mid-19th-century French and German architecture.
- Antiquités de la Nubie (Stuttgart, 1822–7)
- continuation of F. M. Mazois: Les Ruines de Pompeii, 3–4 (Paris, 1829–38)
- R. Weigert: ‘L’Eglise de la Rédemption, ancienne halle de déchargement de l’octroi’, Gaz. B.-A., 36 (1949), pp. 279–90
- Pompéi: Travaux et envois des architectes français au XIXe siècle, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (Paris, 1981)
- A. Falières-Lamy: ‘La Basilique Sainte-Clotilde’, Paris et Ile-de-France: Mémoires publiés par la Fédération des Sociétés historiques et archéologiques de Paris et de l’Ile-de-France, 40 (Paris, 1989) [brochure]