To respond to the atrocities of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain and the ensuing six-year war, Goya created a series of 82 prints entitled The Disasters of War. These prints are a comprehensive condemnation of war, divided into three sections that depict scenes from the Peninsular War, the tragic famine in Madrid in 1811-12, and a series of allegorical prints that mock Ferdinand VII's oppressive government. The portfolio includes disturbing images of rape, torture, violence, and suffering, and critiques both the French and Spanish factions. While Goya was an eyewitness to the war's beginning, many of the scenes he depicted were either based on second-hand accounts or his own imagination. Without Goya's Disasters, it is hard to imagine 20th-century war photography, such as the famous images of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Plate 39 of the series, entitled An Heroic Feat! With Dead Men!, shows three male corpses, mutilated, castrated, and tied to a tree. While some people have identified the men as French soldiers due to their facial hair, Goya obscured their nationality deliberately to highlight the mutual brutality between Spanish guerilla fighters and French soldiers. The bodies of the victims are drawn using classical conventions, with well-proportioned, muscular physiques, even though they are dismembered and tortured. The beauty of their forms only intensifies the image's tragic impact and reinforces the idea that war and violence are enemies of beauty and reason.
Due to the damning political message contained in The Disasters of War, it could not be published during Goya's lifetime and only became public 35 years after his death. The prints inspired a corresponding series of miniature sculptures by the British artists and twin brothers, Jake and Dinos Chapman, which are now in the Tate's collection.