Before the advent of photography and even after, painters had the option of depicting scenes of mayhem and destruction. One artist who did quite well at this was John Martin (1789-1854). A lengthy Wikipedia biographical entry on him is here. In 2011-12 Martin was the subject of an exhibition at the Tate Britain, in London.
Actually, Martin's painting were more epic than gory, as can be seen below.
This painting was badly damaged in the 1920s and required a restoration much more extensive than usual, as this Guardian piece indicates.
Painted not long before Martin suffered a debilitating stroke.